Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Senior Banned From Graduation for Listing High School for Sale on Craigslist

Maybe you heard about the senior prank du jour for 2018 -- posting your high school for sale on Craigslist. You may have seen a news story about seniors listing their schools in Arizona, or Kansas, or Illinois, or Missouri.

The Missouri one might've caught your eye since, instead of having a little fun with the obvious prank, school administrators took language in the ad as a threat, got the police involved, and even issued an emergency subpoena to Craigslist to track down the source. And now they're banning the senior from walking at graduation. So he did what anyone else in his shoes would do -- he sued the school with help from the ACLU.

The Good

Not all school personnel overreacted to an unmistakable (and, let's face it, unoriginal joke) with criminal investigations. Janice Hawkins, principal of Auburn High School in Rockford Illinois, for example joked: "That is FAKE news. I will be demanding an investigation from the Department of Justice. According to my sources, a spy was planted at Auburn to promote this false allegation."

"I was amused," said Ed Raines, principal of Topeka, Kansas's Washburn High School. "As senior pranks go, this was not destructive. I think it was intended to be in good humor and good fun."

The Bad

Administrators at Truman High School in Independence Missouri were not so tickled by an ad posted by senior Kylan Scheele. Scheele, who had never been disciplined and maintained a 3.9 grade point average in four years at Truman High, listed the school for $12,725 (substantially more than the going rate of most high schools on this summer's market, $2,018) with such amenities as "Centralized air, heating, plumbing. Next to Walmart for convenience. Huge parking lot, great for partygoers looking for somewhere to park. Bigger than normal dining room."

Instead of being impressed with Scheele's overvaluation of his soon-to-be alma mater, school officials and Independence police spent significant hours tracking down the source, according to the school district's spokesperson Jana Corrie, and police even issued an emergency subpoena to Craigslist to find out who posted the ad. This was all apparently based on one line in the ad: "The reason for the sale is due to the loss of students coming up," referring to seniors graduating and leaving the school.

"We determined it was not a credible threat," Corrie told the Kansas City Star. And yet the school still banned Scheele from graduation ceremonies. "I posted a harmless ad on Craigslist with no talk of violence at all," Scheele said, "and because someone twisted my words and inferred that I might do something to the school, they won't let me walk at graduation."

The Lawsuit

In an effort to appear at his graduation, Scheele, along with the ACLU of Missouri, sued the Independence School District, claiming, correctly, "The senior prank of posting an advertisement for the sale of one's high school on Craigslist is quite common and appears never to have caused a substantial or material disruption in any other school district in the country."

"The satirical ad contained no threat," the lawsuit asserted. "No reasonable person would have forecasted that the satirical ad would cause a substantial or material disruption to Truman High School or the Independence School District." U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes, however, was unmoved, and denied Scheele's request to attend graduation, finding insufficient evidence to prove wrongdoing by the school district.

So, congratulations to the Independence School District for taking a witty, if banal, prank and using it ruin a kid's big day. And congratulations to Kylan Scheele, for graduating and getting the heck out of there.

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