FourToronto high schoolstudents protesting the suspension of classmates over derogatory comments made onthe website Facebook were arrested and charged Friday after a scuffle with police outsidethe school.
A group of about 60 students staged the demonstration around 9 a.m. ET outside Birchmount Park Collegiate Instituteto object to the suspension offivestudentsoverwhat they said were private postings about the vice-principal on the popular social networking website.
A 16-year-old student was investigated by Toronto police on allegations of criminal harassment. Police say the student was warned and released without charges.
School administrators have accusedat least onestudent of "cyber-bullying" staff members and argue the comments were made in a public forum.
2 students charged with assault of officer
Theprotestescalatedwhen someone pulled the school's fire alarm, causing hundreds of students to spill onto the street in front of the school.
'Too bad a bunch of you had to act like idiots today at your protest. If you want support, that's not the way you go about it.' —Student posting on Facebook
Aspolice tried to move students off Danforth Road, one 16-year-oldboy refused and allegedly began swinging his skateboard at an officer. He was charged with assaulting a peace officer.
While theteen was being arrested, another student allegedly grabbed onto the officer.A 16-year-oldwas charged with obstruction.
As well, a 17-year-old boy was charged with obstruction after allegedly inciting others to violence. Charges of assaulting an officer and assault were also laid against a third 16-year-old boy for allegedly throwing a bottle at an officer.
Students criticize protest on Facebook
The incident has ignited debate over whether schools should be able to punish students for online postings.
Angry reaction to the protest showed up almost immediately on a Facebook group set upfor students of Birchmount Park Collegiate, with thoughts posted by classmates and students from other schools.
"Too bad a bunch of you had to act like idiots today at your protest. If you want support, that's not the way you go about it," one posting said.
One user wrote that while the protest was not a "good representation of how we felt" and made some look like "stupid ignorant teenagers," it was still "a job well done" because it was liberating.
Anotherwriterquotedthe section outliningfree speech rights inthe Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while others countered that itdoesn't mean "you can say whatever the hell you want."
In a similar incident inJanuary, a group of students at a high school in Caledon, Ont., were suspended after making offensive comments on Facebook about their school principal over the ban of cellphones in the school.
Facebookwas originally developedas a social networking tool for college and university students, but has recently exploded in popularity.
Users can post personal details andphotos, and exchange private or public messages. Settings allow them to choose whether to make all information readable by others, or by a selected group of friends.