Taylor Cummings was a popular basketball star on the verge of graduating from one of Nashville's most prestigious high schools until a post on Facebook got him expelled.
After weeks of butting heads with his coaches, Taylor, 17, logged on to the popular social networking site from home Jan. 3. He typed his frustrations for the online world to see: "I'ma kill em all. I'ma bust this (expletive) up from the inside like nobody's ever done before."
Taylor said the threat wasn't real. School officials said they can't take any chances.
But the case highlights the boundaries between socializing in person at school and online at home. It also calls into question the latitude school officials have in disciplining students for their conduct online.
Since the suicide of a Missouri teenager who was harassed online in 2006, news reports show school officials have become sensitive to cyberthreats.
This month at a middle school outside of Syracuse, N.Y., a seventh-grader was suspended for setting up a Facebook page that hosted inappropriate and "libelous" material against a teacher.
In Seattle, a middle school principal suspended 28 students for bullying one classmate on the Internet.
Last fall, two Dallas-area students were suspended for posting hateful comments about a specific teacher on a Facebook page, including "Join now and maybe we can all kill her together."
"We have to take any threat as a potential for being a real threat," said Olivia Brown, spokeswoman from Metro Schools. "It's very difficult to say this child didn't mean it and this child did."
The district's "Code of Acceptable Student Behavior and Discipline" does not directly address social media outlets such as Facebook but gives principals the right to suspend or expel students for threats or for using threatening language. Cyber bullying and harassment is addressed briefly in a different district policy.
"True threats are not protected by the First Amendment, so you have to determine whether it is a true threat or whether there was another meaning," he said.