The Brouhaha that Surrounded Carl Grimmer's Suspension
Quick Synopsis of the Original Story from the Fort Worth Star Telegram
A 13-year-old boy at Richland Middle School in Richland Hills was suspended for three days in December 2003 because he sent that simple message to every computer in the school using an archaic form of instant messaging. The software was created years ago in the old disk operating system used in earlier versions of personal computers.
Carl Grimmer's father taught him how to send messages through network computers as part of a tutorial on how DOS worked. DOS, you might recall, preceded Windows as the dominant operating system during the 1980s and early 1990s.
The result of his trick was that every computer in the school, approximately 80 of them, received his message of "Hey!"
The principal eventually suspended Carl for three days.
This website was originally created as a response to Carl Grimmer's suspension and all the brouhaha that surrounded it. At some point this site’s domain expired. When I discovered it was available I immediately bought it with the goal of rebuilding from its relevant archived pages. What happened to the Grimmer’s boy was an over reaction by not only his computer teacher, but also the school’s principal.
The first time I read about this incident online I couldn't believe my eyes. I was doing a bit of early Christmas shopping at Bob's Sports Chalet since our favorite North Face jackets are here. Over the years I have had a number of different North Face jackets as well as pants, gloves, and other gear. Our family does a lot of outdoor adventures in all the seasons. I wanted to get new ski jackets for my twin boys. They are in the middle of a growth spurt and their jackets from the past year were not going to fit. Anyway, when I finished my order for two North Face jackets, I decided to peruse some of my go to news blogs when I saw this post about a 13-year-old boy in Richland Hills, Texas, who was suspended for three days in December because he sent that simple message to every computer. I was intrigued since I grew up in Haltom City and now have kids around the same age as Carl. I had had a few run ins with school authority while I was growing up in Texas, but I can't say my behavior ever resulted in such an over reaction by the school authorities.
I believe that Carl’s story should remain on the WWW as an historical reference to what can happen to a normal tech-inquisitive kid when the school authorities feel threatened and how they justify their actions: in this case a suspension.
The Complete Story from Carl
Tuesday, December 9th: Carl learned HELP in DOS
Mom, Dad and I were all in the computer room. Mom was kicking butt on Yahoo Games Canasta (as usual), Dad was doing some admin stuff on the server, and I was surfing the net. Dad had just found something on the net that he thought was interesting and sent it to Mom's computer. I didn't know you could do that, so I asked about it. Dad told me to click Start, then Run and type CMD. That brought up a black window with white letters that my dad called DOS. But I had no idea what to do with it. So Dad told me to type HELP and see what came up. The first thing I started messing with was COLOR because I thought the plain black and white was boring. Then Dad showed me how to change directories and view files in different directories, which are folders in Windows. He also showed me how to create and delete directories. But I wanted to know how he sent a message to Mom's computer without using email. So Dad told me to type NET SEND HELP and read. I played around with sending messages to Mom and to Dad. I also figured out NET USE to connect to shared folders on Mom or Dad's computers or on the server. And NET VIEW showed me all the computers on the network. (I wish I'd used that command first the next day...) I spent the rest of the evening reading HELP and figuring stuff out. We never learned anything like this in school, and this was the sort of stuff Mom and Dad both used at their jobs. (Both my parents are computer techs at their jobs.)
Wednesday 10th: Carl Experiments with NET SEND at School.
I was in first period in Mr. Waddell's class, Computer Literacy. I had just finished my test about Microsoft Word, Publisher and Excel. I finished the test early, and I got bored. I started playing on the computer until class ended. (Mr. Waddell usually lets us play games and stuff if we finish early.) First, I played with a program called HyperStudio4 that would say the things that I typed. Then I played Solitaire for a bit. (Nothing like a thousand dollar deck of cards.) Finally, out of boredom, I went to DOS. I messed with the COLOR settings again. I told my neighbor, Wayne, that I could send a message to another guy's computer. I had intended for it to just go to one computer, so first I tried to do NET SEND LAB043 (which was the name of the lab we were in and the login we all used) but that didn't work. Then I tried NET SEND * because I thought each lab was on its own network and it would only hit the computers in our classroom. The message I typed was "Hey!" It popped up on all the computers in the classroom. It surprised everyone, but they all just clicked OK. Mr. Waddell asked who did it, and I admitted to it. I didn't think it was a big deal. But then Mrs. Sweeney came into the room and counted the computers, stopping at mine. Then she went and talked to Mr. Waddell for a while. I looked at Wayne and jokingly said, "Whoops!" Then Mr. Waddell called me up to his desk, and Mrs. Sweeney asked if I was the one that sent the message. I said it was me. Mrs. Sweeney started saying, "This is serious! You shouldn't be doing that. You're here to learn, not play around." I said, "Okay." Then she asked how I did it. We walked to my computer and I explained the command prompt and how to use the NET SEND command. We went back to Mr. Waddell's desk, and Mrs. Sweeney said that Mr. Waddell could deal with me. She told us that the message went to the whole school. Mr. Waddell said to come back to his classroom after school. The bell rang, and I went to second period. After about half of second period went by, Mr. Anderson, my second period teacher, got a phone call from the office. They wanted me to go to the assistant principal's office.
Dr. Santiago is the assistant principal at my school. I went to his office, and he talked to me about what I did. There was a North Richland Hills police officer in Dr. Santiago's office. I told Dr. Santiago I didn't mean to send the message to the entire school. He said it didn't matter that I didn't mean to send it to everyone. So I told Dr. Santiago the whole story from my side. Dr. Santiago left me in the office while he went to talk to Mr. Waddell. When he came back, he said that I was lying. He claimed the Mr. Waddell had set up a trap. Someone was messing around with the computers two weeks before, and they were looking for that person. I told Dr. Santiago that I had just learned the NET SEND command the day before, so it couldn't have been me. He wouldn't tell me what the person did before, and he didn't care that it wasn't me. He just said I was the one that was caught. He said I was lucky I didn't mess up all the computers in some way because my parents couldn't afford to replace all the computers in the school. I tried to explain that it was just a command to send a message, and he said that didn't matter. Dr. Santiago pulled out a book of crimes and punishments for the school, but they couldn't find anything like what I did. But he started listing off punishments I could get. He said, "Punishment by officer" and the officer was smiling and nodding his head while he pointed to himself. Then finally they said that they weren't going to say what my punishment was because that was for the principal, Mr. Rollins, to decide. They asked if I wanted to go back to class or wait for the bell for third period, so I decided to wait for third period in the office. Dr. Santiago told me not to call my mom when I went out into the office. I thought he said for me to call her at first, so I said, "Okay, I'll call her." Then he loudly said, "No, no, no! Don't call your mom!" So I said okay, went outside and waited for the bell to ring. The rest of the day was pretty normal until seventh period when I take athletics. Dr. Santiago came to my seventh period class and told me to have my mom come to the school the next day to have a conference with the principal. I went and told Mr. Waddell that I couldn't come by after school because I had to ride the bus home and didn't have any other ride.
When I got home, I told Mom that she needed to go to the school to talk to the principal. My mom told me I shouldn't have used NET SEND at school, and she said I'd probably get detention for it. I was afraid Mom would be mad at me, so I didn't tell her about the whole thing in Dr. Santiago's office with the cop and all just yet.
Thursday 11th: Carl's Mom Goes to the School
I was having breakfast in the cafeteria at school with all my friends. When everyone was dismissed to go to class, Mr. Rollins called me up to the podium and told me to stay after the bell rings for first period. We went to his office. He asked why my mom didn't come to the school, but I had told her to come after school to see Mr. Rollins. He told me to sit outside his office until he got in contact with my mom. He asked for my mom's number, but she had just got a new cell phone and I didn't know it yet. Dr. Santiago said that he told me to tell my mom to come in the morning, and that I was lying about telling her to come at all. My teachers brought me work to do while I waited.
Around sixth period, Mom showed up. She went straight to Mr. Rollin's office. When they were done talking, Mom came out and brought me into the office. Mr. Rollins told me that I was suspended for three days. When Mom and I left the office, Mom said, "Just so you know, you can enjoy your five day weekend. I think it was BS* that they suspended you for that." I was being quiet because I thought Mom was mad at me. Once we got to the car, Mom explained she wasn't mad at me. We went home.
*Mom didn't actually say "BS"...she said the real word.
(Mom's Note: When I went to the school, I tried to explain that NET SEND wasn't a big deal. Mr. Rollins told me that I had to respect his position. He knew Carl was a good kid, and if it weren't for that he would have taken Carl out and put him in an alternative school.... which is a school for kids that get caught with drugs and are real criminals. He was very adamant about suspending Carl, and he explained that he was making an example of Carl to keep the other kids from doing the same thing. I tried to explain to him that there was a simple way to keep NET SEND from working on his network if he didn't want it to be used, but he had no interest in that. Later I called the school and asked if I could get a job as a network administrator. I told them that they must need someone who actually knew what they were doing. They didn't seem interested in interviewing me, though. I don't know why.)
Friday 12th - Tuesday 16th: I was suspended
My mom went to pick up all my schoolwork. I spent a few days doing homework and hanging out while I was suspended. I went to my Uncle Mitchell's house (my dad's brother) and helped him paint Lord of the Rings miniatures for a project he was doing. I played GTA: Vice City and SSX Tricky on my dad's Playstation 2. I figured out some more DOS stuff and read more on NET SEND to figure out why it went to everybody's computer at school. All in all, it was pretty fun!
Wednesday 17th - Carl Returns to School to Take Semester Finals
When I got back to school, it was time to take semester finals. All I missed at school was the reviews for the finals. When I got to first period, Mr. Waddell called me to his desk and told me not to tell anyone how to do NET SEND. I told him okay, that I wouldn't tell anyone. Then, on the test, there were a couple of questions that had not come up in the class at all. Mr. Waddell added "What is a hacker?" and "What is a virus?" to the test. The whole class had been about how to use Word, Excel and Publisher, so this had never come up in the class.
All my friends were asking me how I did the message, and I didn't want to get in trouble for telling anyone... but by the time school let out I did tell a couple of my friends. They just kept bugging me about it. I didn't tell them the whole thing. I just told them the name of the command and to read HELP for themselves.
For the next two days, it was just exams and early dismissals. Everything was pretty cool. No teachers hassled me. Christmas break started Friday, so I didn't have to deal with them for a couple of weeks.
Monday, December 22nd - Tuesday, January 6th - Christmas Break
Not that it matters here, but I figured I'd brag about what my parents got me for Christmas. I got a t-shirt that says "STAFF Network Security" to wear when I got back to school. That was my dad's idea of a joke. Also, I got a watch that is also a universal remote control, some Smart-Mass, a remote control tank that can play laser tag (my dad got one, too), an air bazooka, a lava lamp, a remote control H2 Hummer, and some other cool stuff. My dad and I play tag with the Hummers when we're not playing laser tag with the tanks. If you get a chance to get one of these tanks, you've gotta get one! They are very cool. (Dad's note: I bought them on www.ThinkGeek.com)
Saturday, January 3rd - Carl is Interviewed by Mr. Dave Lieber
Sometime during the Christmas break, Mom called Dave Lieber of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. One of my dad's coworkers knew about him because he always wrote stuff about schools. Sometimes he wrote good stuff about good schools, and sometimes he would slam schools for doing stupid stuff. He was pretty excited about this story because it was a good example of a school going overboard with 'zero tolerance.' He had already called Mr. Rollins and interviewed him. He was going to write it in such a way that it wouldn't sound very bad for the school, but Mrs. Sweeney wrote him an email that he wanted to use in the article. He said that email would speak for itself.
When Mr. Lieber came to interview me, I was nervous while I answered all of his questions, but I did my best to tell the whole story. Mr. Lieber was pretty cool. He had this neat PDA that he connected to a full-sized folding keyboard so he could type all the stuff I said. (Now my dad will have to get one of those for my mom... she really wanted one just like it!) He thought it was odd that I wanted to learn DOS because he said it was out-of-date. I told him it was neat because I'd never seen anything like that before. My parents told him about how they were trying to teach me computers and how the real world works. My dad had been complaining that all I do is play games all the time, so he wanted to teach me something useful. That's kinda funny because my dad plays Age of Mythology and Quake 3 and Aliens VS Predator with me all the time. Then Mr. Lieber wanted to get a picture of me in front of a computer for his newspaper. He borrowed my dad's digital camera and took a picture of me in front of my mom's computer. If you're wondering why there was a Tigger on the computer monitor, it was because my mom loves Tigger. The computer I usually use has a sticker on the monitor that says "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING" and some Spiderman stickers. It's my dad's old computer. After answering all his questions and getting my picture taken, Mr. Lieber said it would be in the paper on the same day I go back to school. He didn't want it to hit the paper early because then Mr. Rollins and Mrs. Sweeney might plan on doing something bad to me before I got back to school. He also told me to contact him if anyone at the school says anything bad about me because of the article. Then he left.
Tuesday, January 6th - Article Hits Fort Worth Star Telegram
I went back to school after Christmas break. The article was in the paper this morning. Apparently, the only person at the school that read the paper was my second period teacher, Mr. Anderson. He's a cool teacher. He jokingly gave me the nickname, Carl "The Virus" Grimmer, but I knew he was only kidding. We always joke around because he likes the Red Wings and my parents are big Dallas Stars fans. He has a good sense of humor. He plays the song "Interplanet Janet" on his computer to make everybody calm down because everybody hates that song. Some of my friends thought it was cool, but none of the other teachers said anything about it. I didn't hear from Mr. Rollins or Mrs. Sweeney at all.
Wednesday, January 7th - Article hits SlashDot
When I got home, my mom showed me that the article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram was also on SlashDot. My dad reads SlashDot everyday, but he didn't see the article. Mr. Lieber wrote Mom and sent her the link. There were a lot of people posting stuff about me on there. Some people thought I was being bad for sending it, but I really didn't mean to send it to everyone. I was just figuring it out. Also, a lot of people told their stories about what they did when they were kids. Some people were defending me and saying that the school was wrong to suspend me. I asked my dad to print them all out for me so I could keep them. I made a binder to keep everything. Also, Mr. Lieber sent my mom an email that the Mr. Brandt from PC World Magazine wanted to send me a subscription. He said that if I couldn't learn computers in school, maybe his magazine would help teach me what my teachers wouldn't teach me.
Thursday, January 8th - Article hits Opinion Journal
Mr. Lieber wrote my mom again. The story is now on Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal website!
Friday, January 9th - Mr. Rollins will not Apologize for the Suspension
Since Technology Applications was just a one semester class, I am now an office assistant for first period. While I was in the office helping, Mr. Rollins came in and told me to come talk to him in his office. I went to his office. He said my dad had sent him an email that he should apologize to me. He told me that I was a good kid, but he wasn't going to apologize for what he did. He said he has bosses, too. He talked a lot, so I didn't really catch everything he said. He kept talking until second period started.
When I got home, Mom told me the article was on MetaFilter and in the New York Sun. Dad did some surfing to find the link for the New York Sun and accidentally found Dave's Good Stuff.
Wednesday, January 21th - *Mom's Note
There is not much to update at this point. We are deadlocked with the school. I believe Carl deserves an apology and they refuse to offer one. We're still fighting to have the suspension removed, alas to no avail. It's unclear what the ramifications of a hacking suspension will be for him. (One of the office ladies wouldn't let Carl go into the library since they have computers in there.)
Thanks to everyone for the supportive emails. Carl has be swamped, but he's trying to reply to them all as he can.
Friday, January 23th - *Mom's Note
I received a letter from the school yesterday. Of course it didn't contain a much deserved apology...instead the letter was informing me that Carl had missed 5 days of school so far this year! GIVE ME A BREAK!!! Soooo, I'll be back at the school on Monday. Maybe I'm being a b*tch, but to me this feels like insult to injury. "Not only did we get away with suspending your kid, now we're gonna rub your nose in it."
Thursday, February 12th - *Mom's Note
Over the last couple of weeks a few things have happened. The ACLU has contacted us wanting permission to research the case further. I'm not sure what they're wanting to do with it, but ok.
Last Friday, we had another incident at the school involving our oldest daughter, Heather, and Mr. Rollins. Heather was invited to the Valentine's Dance by an 8th grader who attends Richland Middle School (Heather is in 9th grade). Mr. Rollins refused to let her into the building because she was in High School. Ok...I can understand that. What I don't understand is why she had to wait outside...in the dark...alone. A 15 year old young lady has no business being made to wait outside alone. It is just not safe! Now to top if off, when I went in to look for Mr. Rollins (who could not be found!) I recognized three High School girls there. THREE OTHER HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS...dancing, having punch, and just an overall good time... Which leads me to believe Heather was made to leave because of me. Which leads to an even more troubling thought....our youngest daughter has to go to that school next year. What repercussions will she have to suffer?
I'm unsure what to do with this. Over the last two weeks I've attempted to get a meeting with either the school board or the superintendent. My emails and phone calls are not returned.
Check back here for any new news... as it happens! Also, my parents set me up an email address through their website. Any questions or whatever, send them to me at Carl(at)NightmareCandles.com (Dad's note: Just remember you're emailing a minor, and we reserve the right to post anything you email Carl on this website along with your email address... so be cool.)