KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A nursing student at Johnson County Community College is stunned to find herself booted out of school just months before graduation.
Her offense: Posting on Facebook a photograph of herself posing with a human placenta in class.
Doyle Byrnes, who had expected to graduate in May and begin working as a registered nurse in the fall, is now in federal court seeking an injunction against Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan.
The 22-year-old woman claims her future earnings potential in her chosen profession is at stake because of what she calls "a momentary lapse in judgment."
A dean at the school calls it "a lesson hard learned."
According to the complaint in U.S. District Court in Kansas, Byrnes was a good student and was attending a lab course off-site at Olathe Medical Center on Nov. 10 to examine a human placenta. The lab session was supervised by JCCC nursing instructor Amber Delphia.
One of the seven students in the group asked Delphia for permission to photograph the placenta so they could share their experience on Facebook.
Delphia, according to the suit, merely said, "Oh, you girls," and did not tell them not to do it or that it could result in discipline.
Four students had themselves photographed with the organ, which had no identification linking it to a particular woman. Byrnes' photo showed her smiling broadly, wearing a lab coat and surgical gloves and leaning over the placenta in a tray.
She later posted it on Facebook, where it remained for about three hours until Delphia called her that evening and told her to remove it. Byrnes asked if she was in trouble and Delphia replied she was not, the suit says. Byrnes removed the photo immediately.
It is not clear whether other students also posted photos on the website, but all four who had their pictures taken with the placenta were kicked out of school the next day, according to court documents, which did not fully identify them.
"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," Jeanne Walsh, director of nursing at the college, wrote in a letter to Byrnes that is included as an exhibit with the complaint.
The defendants in the court action include Johnson County Community College, Walsh, Delphia and Clarissa Craig, the dean of the health and wellness program. Craig declined to comment on Thursday. Neither Walsh nor Delphia could be reached. The college is closed for winter break. Thomas Hammond, the attorney for all the defendants, did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.
Clifford Cohen, Byrnes' attorney, argues that his client was deprived of due process and that nothing in the school's code of conduct addresses photographs or social media. He said Byrnes' actions were not disrespectful of the organ or of the nursing school.
"They're not giggly teenagers," Cohen said of the four expelled students. "They are mature, I would say serious, professionals. I've interviewed the other women. They all impress me as serious, career-minded women who are utterly stunned at what's happened to them."
Cohen said Byrnes did not wish to speak publicly prior to a hearing on her request for an injunction. But her lawsuit includes a letter she wrote to Walsh asking for leniency.
"In my excitement to be able to share with my loved ones the phenomenal learning experience in 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 wrote. "For my actions I am truly sorry."
Byrnes closed her Facebook account, calling it a temptation that hindered her better judgment.
On Dec. 16, Craig affirmed Byrnes' dismissal from the nursing school. In a letter to Byrnes, also included as an exhibit with the complaint, she called the action a reasonable step in "a lesson hard learned."
Walsh had said she would support Byrnes if she sought readmission to the nursing school next fall, according to court documents. But Cohen said his client is engaged to be married in August and planned to move to Virginia with her husband and work there as a registered nurse.
That is why Byrnes is seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to force the school to reinstate her before classes resume Jan. 19.
Cohen said his client's career hangs in the balance.
"With this kind of black mark on her record, who knows whether she can enroll in another nursing school," he said. "Would she be able to get a job?"
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