A judge gave Charleston County school leaders and the former student who tweeted the N-word about a black classmate more time to resolve the issue of whether she should have to write a 500-word punishment essay.

If they can't, the matter could be back in court in 10 days.

Judge Thomas Hughston Jr. extended on Thursday a temporary restraining order against the school district that meant Ashley Patrick, a graduate of School of the Arts, doesn't have to follow any of the county school board's discipline mandates. The board told her in May to write a paper on racism and its effect on social media and present it to the board Monday. The restraining order prevented that from happening.

The court hearing Thursday was to decide whether that temporary restraining order should be extended. Patrick wasn't in court, but her attorney, Dwayne Green, was. He and the district's attorney, Craig Burgess, met with Hughston at his bench to discuss the matter, but their conversation could not be heard from the gallery.

Hughston made a decision in less than 10 minutes and didn't speak publicly about it.

The district's in-house attorney, John Emerson, said Hughston strongly encouraged Patrick to write and present the essay as the county school board directed.

“We are pleased with the outcome of today's hearing, and look forward to resolving this matter without further litigation,” Emerson said in a statement.

Green disagreed with Emerson's characterization of the judge's position, saying Hughston didn't take a position on whether Patrick should write the essay. Green said the judge encouraged the attorneys present to work it out.

Green doesn't think the county school board had the authority to assign the essay in the first place, and he plans to talk with Patrick about the situation if the district continues to insist she write it, he said. If this is going to turn into a big issue with continued hearings, she might do it, he said.

He's more interested in ensuring that Patrick's record is cleared of the intimidation charge and that this situation doesn't happen again, he said. The district has made the essay issue its “line in the sand,” and he called it a waste of taxpayers' money and time to fight about that.

“It's amazing that we're arguing about the essay when the larger issue is unresolved,” he said. “I'm pleased the judge gave us time to resolve the small issue so we can get on to the bigger one.”

Thursday's hearing was solely to address the restraining order, not the merits of the case.

Patrick, who graduated this month, tweeted from her iPhone at home that if junior Imani Herring “makes one more got damn remark in Roger's class tomorrow ... (expletive) will drop.” Patrick posted a link to a picture of a young white girl squeezing her eyes shut and crossing her fingers. The text on the photo read “I wish a nigga would.”

Patrick apologized, was suspended and completed the constituent school board's requirement of 20 hours of community service. She accepted and fulfilled that punishment.

The district administration appealed the constituent school board's decision to the county school board, which voted to uphold the constituent school board's decision. It also specified where she had to do the service work and required her to write the essay.

In her lawsuit, Patrick argues that the county school board didn't have the authority to overrule the constituent school board, and that its hearing wasn't properly noticed. She also contends that Associate Superintendent Lou Martin, who oversees the district's high schools, improperly categorized her offense to a more serious level to send a message to minority students, and the district's appeal was wrong because it disregarded the conflicts of interest that were present.

The target of her tweet, Imani Herring, is the daughter of Lisa Herring, who was promoted this week to chief academic officer of Charleston County schools.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.