HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH, Associated Press
POSTED: 4:02 am CST January 6, 2011
UPDATED: 9:55 pm CST January 6, 2011
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A suburban Kansas City college said Thursday that it would allow four nursing students booted out for posting photos of themselves with a human placenta on Facebook to return to school following a federal judge’s ruling reinstating one of the students.
The announcement from Johnson County Community College followed U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren’s order that the school allow Doyle Byrnes to return when classes resume Jan. 19 and take her finals from the previous semester.
While college officials had argued the students’ actions were disruptive, Melgren said the school’s response was more disruptive. He also noted nothing in the photos could link the placenta to a particular mother.
“I’m an uptight guy and I’m not offended by them,” he said of the photos.
Byrnes’ three classmates, who were not part of the lawsuit but testified during the hearing, hugged and cried when a community college official told them they could come back to school. The classmates declined to comment.
Byrnes said after the ruling that she was simply trying to share her nursing school experience when she posted a photo showing her smiling, wearing a lab coat and surgical gloves and leaning over the placenta in a tray.
“We thought examining the placenta that day was a pivotal moment in our learning as nurses because it was this amazing organ that had provided all this sustenance for a child for nine months,” she said, adding that she never expected to be punished. “I was very surprised.”
According to testimony, the students were kicked out of the nursing program on Nov. 11, the day after posing for the photos at a hospital where they were gaining clinical experience. A fifth student who posed with the placenta but didn’t post the photo on the social networking site wasn’t kicked out of school.
The students testified that they complied when a nursing instructor called them and told them to remove the photos from Facebook. But the next day they were called into a meeting with Jeanne Walsh, director of nursing at the college, who tearfully told them they were kicked out of the program.
“When I saw the pictures I could not believe how the students were posing,” Walsh testified. “They only thing I can tell you is I felt it was a total disregard for the dignity and the sanctity of the relationship we have with our patients.”
The college had said the students could participate in a medical ethics project and seek readmission in the fall, although Byrnes said she wasn’t offered that option.
Byrnes argued that she is engaged to be married in August and had planned to move to Virginia with her husband and work there as a registered nurse. Her attorney, Clifford Cohen, said the dismissal posed a financial hardship for Byrnes.
The school’s president, Terry Calaway, said he considered the matter settled and had no plans to pursue it in court further.
Cohen said he will seek damages.
“I would have been very happy to have resolved this with Johnson County Community College before filing a federal court lawsuit,” he said. “In many ways the taxpayers of Johnson County are the losers because all of this could have been avoided.”