College in Mississippi Withdraws Penalties Against Student Who Swore

July 28, 2010

A community college in Mississippi has dropped penalties against a student for using a profanity after learning he had received a poor grade on a tardy assignment. The student, Isaac Rosenbloom, said in an interview that Hinds Community College sent a letter on Tuesday stating that he would "not suffer any future consequences" related to the March 29 incident.

Mr. Rosenbloom and a few other students had remained after a speech class one day to discuss their grades with the instructor, Barbara Pyle. Upon seeing that he had received a score of 74 on the late assignment, Mr. Rosenbloom testified in a recorded disciplinary hearing that he turned to a classmate and said, "This grade is going to [expletive] up my entire GPA." He said the instructor had told him his language was unacceptable and ordered him to detention.

Hinds does not have detention, but it does punish students who use profanity through a system of fines and demerits, an arrangement that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free-speech advocacy group known as FIRE, contends is unconstitutional.

Hinds found Mr. Rosenbloom guilty of "flagrant disrespect" and issued 12 demerits against him. The college also blocked him from finishing the course and placed a record of the incident in his student file, an action that FIRE says caused Mr. Rosenbloom to lose his student aid.

Mr. Rosenbloom, who works as an emergency medical technician and is pursuing paramedic training at Hinds, appealed the decision twice and lost both times. His lawyers, Robert B. McDuff and Sibyl C. Byrd, persuaded Hinds to reverse its decision, according to a statement by FIRE.

Mr. Rosenbloom said that he remained on "financial-aid probation" and still had a "W" on his transcript, signifying his involuntary withdrawal from the speech course, but that the demerits had been removed from his record.

He said that while he was happy to be able to finish his course of study, he's disappointed that Hinds is not going to do away with its speech code. "They're just going to turn around and do this to the next guy," Mr. Rosenbloom said.

Hinds's spokeswoman, Cathy C. Hayden, said via e-mail that the college did not comment on student-disciplinary matters. Ben J. Piazza Jr., Hinds's lawyer, said that President Clyde Muse was convalescing after losing his wife of 58 years, Vashti U. Muse, in a July 9 automobile accident, and thus would not be available for comment either.

In the letter he sent to the student's lawyers, Mr. Piazza wrote, "We are sorry for the difficulty this has caused Mr. Rosenbloom and wish him well in his future academic endeavors."

That was insufficient for Mr. Rosenbloom. "To me it's not a win if the other guy just gives you back what he took from you in the first place," he said.