9:25 p.m. CST, January 6, 2011
OLATHE, KAN – A group of nursing students who were kicked out of school after a picture was posted on Facebook showing one of them posing with a human placenta will be allowed to return to school immediately, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.
Doyle Byrnes was booted from the Johnson County Community College Nursing Program one day after the picture was posted on Facebook. She had asked a judge to reinstate her before classes resume on January 19th.
District Court Judge Eric Melgren ruled that Byrnes and the other students be reinstated into the program immediately, and that Byrnes be allowed to take the exams she missed after she was kicked out of the program in December. Judge Melgren also made it clear to the college that no retribution will be allowed against the students.
On December 10th, Byrnes and the other nursing students were attendeding a lab course at the Olathe Medical Center where they examined a human placenta. Witnesses that took the stand say a student asked the lab instructor if the student could take a picture with the placenta, with the intent of posting the photos on Facebook.
All four witnesses including Byrnes testified that the instructor replied by saying,”Oh you girls”, but never told the students they could not post the pictures or that it could result in discipline. In fact, the witnesses testified that the instructor told them to remove any patient identifiers before they took the picture.
The photos remained on the students facebook pages for about three hours before the students got a phone call from the instructor asking them to remove them, which they did. The next day all four were dismissed from the nursing program. Three of the students say they were told by the college they could reapply in the fall as long as they complete a medical ethics project, but Byrnes says she was never given that option.
“After being told time and time again you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, what you did was undeniably wrong and to finally have someone say you still deserve to have a future, it was a long time coming waiting for that answer,” said Byrnes.
Cliff Cohen, who represented Byrnes in court, argued that his client was deprived of due process and says there was nothing in the nursing school’s code of coduct that addresses photographs or social media.
“I think that (the judge) felt they were not sensitive to students rights and that they needed to do a better job,” said Cohen, who says that Byrnes’ civil rights complaint against the school is still going forward, but that he hopes that a settlement can be reached.
Attorney’s for the school argued that Byrnes and three other students did violate the school’s code of conduct by their demeanor and unprofessionalism.
“We don’t really agree with (the ruling),” said Terry Calloway, president of the Johnson County Community College. “The college does have a pretty clear process. We think that the students were being afforded due process.”
Calloway says that the school’s code of conduct will be revisited to see if a social media policy should be added.