The two girls — sometimes friends, sometimes not — were feuding. So in late November, one girl parked in the other girl's spot at Osceola Fundamental High School. Then she suspected the other girl of keying her car. Then she went home and, without naming names, put up a couple of posts on her Facebook page, including this one:
"oh so you keyed my car? well your karmas gonna be a wholeee lot worse that that"
The next morning, the girl, 16-year-old Allie Scott, found herself in big trouble.
The Pinellas school district suspended her for three days. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office charged her with stalking.
Now she and her mother are accusing authorities of overreacting. And they've hired a big-name lawyer to defend her and clear her name.
"It has to be extremely offensive (to real victims of bullying) when the School Board takes extreme action in a case as innocuous as this," attorney John Trevena said. "It's borderline silly."
It's not clear what additional actions, if any, led the district and Sheriff's Office to do what they did.
The district can't comment because of student confidentiality, said School Board attorney Jim Robinson. The Sheriff's Office can't disclose details because it's an open investigation involving a juvenile, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda.
Allie's mother, Paula Scott of St. Petersburg, said her daughter posted one other comment that night, this time on a friend's Facebook page. "I think it said something like … she doesn't know what's coming to her," Scott said.
Scott and Trevena said there were no other words or actions involving Allie and the other girl since the parking incident, and no communications or contact between them.
The referral from the school, which Trevena provided to the St. Petersburg Times, says, "Student posted harrassing comments on facebook, threatening that the other student doesn't know what is coming for her."
The case touches on a sensitive and legally complicated issue for school districts everywhere.
Trevena said the district trampled on Allie's constitutional right to free speech. Robinson said it's not black and white.
The courts are still sorting out how much jurisdiction school officials have over incidents that happen off campus that may disrupt the atmosphere on campus, Robinson said. He said the judgment of principals, school resource officers and other school-level officials is going to vary to some extent.
"This is a topic that doesn't lend itself to a perfect code of conduct," he said.
It can be tough to know when and how to intervene.
In plenty of high-profile cases — including some from around Tampa Bay — what began with heated words on Facebook or MySpace, or a push or a shove or a slur, escalated into something shocking and violent. At least twice in recent years, the Pinellas School Board has been sued by parents who said school officials didn't act fast enough to protect their kids from bullies. In both cases, the parents claimed their children had been seriously injured.
Allie said the school resource officer, Mark Shorter, called her out of class first thing the morning after her Facebook post.
"He told me he was making an example out of me," she said.
She said she put her head down and cried.
"I've never touched anybody, ever. I'm not a person for violence," she said. "My mom's always taught me karma. … When something bad happens, if somebody does me wrong, they'll get their karma. I just have to sit back and watch."
The school resource officer also called in several other students who responded to Allie's Facebook comments with written words of their own. But Trevena said none was disciplined even though some made similar comments.
Trevena said Allie never had been suspended before, and she had never been in trouble with the juvenile justice system.
Allie and her mom want prosecutors to drop the stalking charge. They want the district to scrub the suspension from her record.
They also want Allie to be able to take an Algebra II exam and a chemistry lab they say she missed because of her suspension, which she says hurt her grade-point average.
Trevena said Allie will probably not attend a scheduled meeting next week with a juvenile diversion program. Allie said she considered going, because it would give her an opportunity to erase the stalking charge. She said she fears it will send a red flag to prospective employers and colleges.
"But I decided to fight it because it's not right," she said.
Ron Matus can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8873.