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Federal judge blocks further discipline of students who ‘liked’ racist Instagram posts

A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order against a California school district, blocking administrators from continuing to discipline four students who had been suspended for “liking” racially charged Instagram posts. (2016 file photo/Carl Court/Getty Images)

A federal judge blocked a California high school Friday from taking any additional action against four students who were suspended for “liking” racially charged posts on Instagram.

U.S. District Judge James Donato issued a temporary restraining order against the Albany Unified School District just outside San Francisco, barring the school system from taking any further action against the suspended teenagers, according to The Associated Press. One of the students, Kevin Chen, was facing possible expulsion.

Four Albany High School students first ran into trouble in March when it was discovered they had “liked” or commented on several racially charged images posted to a private Instagram account.

One of the most provocative images depicted a black female basketball player and the high school team’s coach with nooses around their necks.

The students — Chen, Philip Shen, Nima Kormi, and Michael Bales — were immediately suspended. But the teens decided to fight back against the school's decision.

Earlier this month, the four students launched a lawsuit against Albany High School, claiming the administrators exercised disproportionate actions against them and violated their right to free speech.

Attorney Alan Beck, who is representing the students, argued the students’ Instagram activity is no different from what they might do in the privacy of their own homes.

“This to me is no different than having a private drawing book and making some offensive drawings at home and sharing them with a couple of my friends,” the lawyer told Fox News. “Does the school have the right to ruin my life over something I was doing at my house?”

Donato's order states that the students’ objections to their punishments raised “serious” questions about the First Amendment. He said the students should not be subjected to “a one-size fits all approach.”

The judge did, however, acknowledge the difficulties surrounding the case because “outside of the official school environment, students are instant messaging, texting, emailing, Twittering, Tumblring, and otherwise communicating electronically.”

Regardless, Albany High School does not plan to back down.

Val Williams, the school’s superintendent, said the district “takes great care to ensure that our students feel safe at school, and we are committed to providing an inclusive and respectful learning environment for all of our students.”

She said the school intends to fight the temporary restraining order in court.

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