Now one of the students, Doyle Byrnes, is seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court in Kansas to force Johnson County Community College to reinstate her before classes resume Jan. 19.
The Kansas City Star reported that Byrnes and several other students were attending a lab course off-site at Olathe Medical Center in November when one of them asked a nursing instructor for permission to photograph the placenta so they could share the experience on Facebook.
The lawsuit against the college and several of its employees said that the nursing instructor responded, "Oh, you girls," and did not tell them not to do it or that it could result in discipline.
Afterward, at least one of the students, Byrnes, posted a photo on the social networking site showing her smiling broadly, wearing a lab coat and surgical gloves and leaning over the placenta in a tray. There was nothing in the photos to identify the placenta as coming from a particular woman.
The photo remained on Facebook for about three hours until the nursing instructor called her that evening and told her to remove it. Byrnes asked if she was in trouble and the instructor replied she was not, the lawsuit says. Byrnes removed the photo immediately and has since closed her Facebook account.
Byrnes and the other three students who posed with the placenta were expelled the next day. None of the other expelled students were fully identified in the lawsuit.
Jeanne Walsh, director of nursing at the college, was critical of Byrnes in a letter to her that was included as an exhibit with the complaint.
"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," the letter said.
An e-mail that The Associated Press sent to the defendants' attorney, Thomas Hammond, on Saturday night was not immediately returned.
Clifford Cohen, who represents Byrnes, 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.
"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."
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.
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?"