4 Involved With 'Start Slavery Again' Petition Can't Return to Class: Judge

A federal judge has determined that four high school freshmen in Kansas City, Missouri, must abide by their school's punishments after they began circulating a petition to bring back slavery.

U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Bough ruled that the students, one of whom was expelled and the three others suspended for 180 days, must accept their punishments. In his decision, the judge determined that, although the students are expected to receive irreparable harm to their reputations, their claims would not hold up efficiently in a higher court, KCUR reported.

According to The Kansas City Star, the petition was created on the petition-making website Change.org and was allegedly meant as a joke between four freshmen football players at Park Hill South High School. One student, who is biracial and had what The Star described as "friendly banter" with a Black student, created the petition and shared it with three others. From there, the petition spread across the school, prompting outrage from faculty and parents. Some students were even reported to be in fear for their lives.

"I have been fighting fires all day," wrote an anonymous teacher to Park Hill South Principal Kerrie Herren at the time of the petition's circulation, The Star reported in November. "I have several girls crying and scared for their lives. I have been doing a lot of counseling today and trying to give support but I am concerned about the girls that are scared or crying."

This unrest and controversy played a role in Bough's decision. In his decision, he expressed that the petition caused "a substantial disruption" in the operations of Park Hill South, The Star added. He also concluded that the students, who have not been publicly identified, were treated fairly by the school administration and were the subjects of a fair investigation into the matter.

However, the attorney for the students said that the situation has been taken far out of context. Considering that the original joke was between the biracial student and his Black teammate, attorney Arthur Benson claimed in a statement that the petition was simply an example of bad judgment.

"Three white boys in similar bad judgment wanted in on the joke, intended only for the freshman players," Benson was quoted by The Star. "This bad judgment was punished as heinous acts that no one now still claims them to be."

Benson has not indicated any plans to continue with the lawsuit, KCUR added.

Update 02/09/2022 at 5:43 p.m. EST: This story was updated with more background information on the case, as well as with comments from Arthur Benson.

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Four high school students in Kansas City, Missouri, must abide by their school's punishments after circulating a racist "joke" petition, according to a federal judge. Above, a stock photo of a woman sending a message on a smartphone. diego_cervo/iStock / Getty Images Plus