Teenager allegedly threatened with jail over coronavirus posts
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A 16-year-old Wisconsin high school sophomore who had symptoms of the coronavirus and posted about it on social media was ordered by a sheriff’s deputy to delete the posts and threatened with being taken to jail, her attorney said Friday.
The teenager is a student in the Westfield School District in Marquette County. Her attorney, Luke Berg, wrote to both the county sheriff and district administrator, who called the posts a “foolish means to get attention,” asking for apologies. The girl also should be permitted to post on social media again without fear of being charged or taken to jail, said Berg, an attorney with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
Sheriff Joseph Konrath and school administrator Bob Meicher did not immediately reply to messages seeking comment Friday.
According to the girl's attorney, she suffered a severe respiratory illness with symptoms matching those of COVID-19. She tested negative for the disease, but her attorney said that doctors told the girl's family that she likely had the virus but missed the window for testing positive.
The girl posted about her experience on March 26 on Instagram. Her first post showed her looking out a window with the message, “i wont be back for a while longer due to me ... having the COVID-19 virus....I dont want the attention it’s just the truth.”
A second post, showing her in a hospital bed hooked up to what appears to be an oxygen mask, included the caption “Winning the fight with Covid-19.” It was that post that the sheriff’s deputy had a screen shot of and demanded she remove, according to her attorney.
Her parents also contacted multiple staff at the school to warn other parents whose children had been on a spring break trip to Florida with her between March 7 and March 15.
Instead, Berg alleges that the school district administrator contacted the county sheriff, who then sent a deputy to the girl's home on March 27 and said that if she didn't remove the post, she and her parents could be cited for disorderly conduct and taken to jail.
Later that day, the school administrator sent a message to school district families saying “there was a rumor floating out there that one of our students contracted Covid-19 while on the band trip to Florida two weeks ago” and “there is NO truth to this.” The message, still on the district’s website Friday, called her posts a “foolish means to get attention” and that “the source of the rumor has been addressed.”
The deputy’s orders and the school district administrator's actions were a clear violation of the girl’s free speech rights, Berg wrote. He asked for the district to remove the message, which Berg said had damaged the student's reputation.
There have been two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Marquette County as of Thursday.