Social media and social mores have once again collided in a Midwestern controversy involving a community college and four of its nursing students. A lawsuit was filed in Kansas last week by one of the nursing students, Doyle Byrnes, charging that Johnson County Community College dismissed her without due process after she posted photographs of herself with a human placenta on her Facebook page. The college said the students behaved unprofessionally, and the school's decision to dismiss them as appropriate under the circumstances. We will take a look at both sides of the controversy in this article.
How it Happened
According to a report on Inside Higher Ed, the nursing students from the college took a trip to nearby Olathe Medical Center in November. The purpose of the trip was to learn about the functions of the placenta, the organ that supplies life-sustaining nutrients to a growing fetus inside the womb. The medical center provided a donated human placenta as an example for the lesson.
During the lesson, Byrnes and three of her classmates asked the community college instructor, Amber Delphia, if they could take photographs of the placenta in question. According to a report at the Courthouse News Service, Byrnes also told Delphia she intended to post the photographs on Facebook. Byrnes said that Delphia allowed them to take the pictures, after ensuring no indentifying information about the patient would be included in the photos. When Byrnes told her about the Facebook intentions, Delphia's response was simply, "Oh, you girls." Byrnes stated that she took the comment as implied consent both to take the photographs and to post them.
The Next Step
An article in the Wall Street Journal reports that the placenta photos were placed on Byrnes' Facebook page later that day. After a few hours, Delphia phoned Byrnes to ask her to take the pictures off the Internet, which Byrnes promptly did. When Byrnes asked if she was in trouble for the posting, Delphia assured her she was not, according to the Inside Higher Ed report.
However, the next day, Byrnes and her classmates who also posted the photos were called into the office of the college's nursing director, Jeanne Walsh, who chastised the students for posting the photos and dismissed them from their classes. According to a report on Time, Walsh wrote in a letter to the students, "Your demeanor and lack of professional behavior surrounding this event was considered a disruption to the learning environment and did not exemplify the professional behavior that we expect in the nursing program."
In a letter of response to Walsh, Byrnes wrote, "In my excitement to be able to share with my loved ones the phenomenal learning experience with which I had been blessed enough to take part, I did not consider that others might view this photograph as unprofessional, offensive to the school I was representing and more importantly the sanctity of human life."
Byrnes also asked that she be reinstated to the nursing program, which she was scheduled to graduate from in May. The school told all four students that they would be able to reapply to the program in August 2011, but could not return to class before that time.
On December 23, 2010, Byrnes filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the school, saying she was dismissed from her studies without due process. Byrnes asserts that she was unable to present evidence to the school to support her side of the issue, which includes permission by the instructor to take the photos and what Byrnes refers to as implicit permission to post the pictures on the Internet.
The suit asks for Byrnes' readmission and the opportunity to take final exams for her fall courses. The suit also states that because Byrnes is planning to move out of the area later this year, she could face difficulty getting into another nursing program after getting dismissed from the program at Johnson County Community College. Byrnes is seeking an injunction to be readmitted into her classes before they start again this month.
After the lawsuit was filed, an attorney for the college stated that the instructor, Delphia, did not approve the students' decision to post the photos and denied knowledge of their intention to put the pictures online. A statement from the college said, "We will not tolerate such insensitivity on the part of our nursing students. We also must protect the reputations of our business partners in health care." The president of JCCC added, "Because we cannot tolerate such unprofessional behavior in our students, we took what we believed to be the appropriate action."
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