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Heights High suspends senior class president over Twitter post

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at 8:42 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, March 6, 2014, at 9:13 a.m.

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— The senior class president at Heights High School has been suspended for the rest of the school year and barred from most graduation activities for posting a tweet that school officials say insulted athletes at the school.

The tweet, posted on Wesley Teague’s personal Twitter page Thursday, said: “‘Heights U’ is equivalent to WSU’s football team.”

It prompted angry reactions from some classmates who said Teague was disrespectful to athletes, particularly underclassmen who coined the phrase and sometimes use the hashtag “#HeightsU” on tweets about Falcon football or other athletic endeavors.

Wichita State University dropped its football program after the 1986 season.

Teague, 18, says the initial tweet and a few he posted in response to critics immediately afterward were harmless and his punishment too severe. School officials said they created a disruption both online and at the school, where several students argued about the comments and Teague’s right to post them.

“It’s completely unfair, and I just think it’s a joke,” Teague said Tuesday.

“It’s a 100 percent truthful tweet and it wasn’t meant to offend a single person or group of people. … I only meant that ‘Heights U’ doesn’t exist because it doesn’t. We’re not a university.”

Heights school officials did not return calls Tuesday. But a letter sent to Teague and his parents from assistant principal Monique Arndt says the senior was suspended because he “acted to incite a disturbance.”

“Wesley posted some very inappropriate tweets about the Heights athletic teams, aggressively disrespecting many athletes,” the letter says. “After reading the tweets and taking statements from other students it was found that Wesley acted to incite the majority of our Heights athletes.”

Wichita schools spokeswoman Susan Arensman said in an e-mail, “There was a negative reaction from many students, including threats of fights in the school.”

“It caused a major disruption to the school day. Other students were also suspended,” Arensman said.

She said she didn’t know how many other students had been suspended or for how long.

Teague, a member of the Heights track team, had been selected by faculty to give a speech at the senior breakfast and convocation ceremony Friday. Now he can’t attend the ceremony, but officials told him he could participate in Heights’ commencement ceremony Sunday.

Kirsten Teague, Wesley’s mother, said she spoke with Heights principal Bruce Deterding on Tuesday and told him she planned to appeal the suspension.

“I think it’s a bit overreacting. … I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with what Wesley did,” she said.

“I guess I wonder whether the same thing would have happened if he said something (negative) about the vocal music department.”

Arndt’s letter said Teague’s conduct violated the district’s policy on student behavior, which says:

“Each pupil is held responsible for his/her personal actions. The right to attend a Wichita Public School carries with it the obligation to maintain acceptable behavior.”

The policy prohibits the use of personal electronic devices, including cellphones, during the school day and prohibits “bullying in any form,” including cyberbullying.

Arensman said there have been other cases where a student has been suspended over comments made on social media.

“If it causes a major disruption to the school day, or if a threat is made, there will be an investigation and students will face consequences,” she said.

Wesley Teague said texting and tweeting during the school day is common, and that he has “seen way worse” on Twitter than his comment relating “Heights U” to WSU’s non-existent football team.

“I guess I hurt a group of people’s feelings … and I got suspended for the rest of my senior year,” he said. “People get their feelings hurt every day.”

Since his suspension, some students have launched new Twitter hashtags – #TeamWesley and #FreeWesley – to protest the punishment.

Teague’s mother said she hopes school officials will reconsider and allow him to participate in the senior convocation, particularly because Wesley’s campaign for senior class president focused on school spirit.

“His main goal was to increase school spirit. He went to soccer games, volleyball games. He’s been very supportive of the athletic teams,” Kirsten Teague said.

“He tried out for basketball his sophomore year and didn’t make it, but he was on the front row cheering for those kids every game. … He’s been their Number One supporter.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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