Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An Issue to Watch: Student Internet Speech

Excerpts from an article on Education Week online:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up major appeals involving student free speech rights on the Internet.

The appeal in Blue Mountain School District v. Snyder (No. 11-502) involves a 3rd Circuit decision that said students who ridiculed their principals online could not be punished by school authorities because the speech was created off campus and did not substantially disrupt schools.

The 3rd Circuit held in the Blue Mountain case that a Pennsylvania middle school student's 2007 MySpace parody depicting her principal as a sex addict and a pedophile was so outrageous that no one could have taken it seriously.

In a companion case, Layshock v. Hermitage School District, the 3rd Circuit court overturned the discipline of a Pennsylvania high school student who in 2005 had created a fake MySpace profile of his principal on a computer at his grandmother's house.

The 3rd Circuit court found that the profile did not create a substantial disruption in school, and the court rejected the school district's arguments that other facts created a nexus between the parody and the school.

Meanwhile, an appeal in Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools (No. 11-461) involved a West Virginia student who was disciplined for creating a MySpace page targeting not an administrator but another student at her high school.

Kara Kowalski was a student at Musselman High School, in Berkeley County, W.Va., in 2005 when she created a MySpace page that suggested another female student had herpes. School officials concluded that Kowalski had created a "hate" website in violation of school policies against harassment, bullying, and intimidation. Kowalski sued under the First Amendment, but both a federal district court and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., upheld school administrators.

The justices declined on Jan. 17 to hear the cases without comment or recorded dissent.

(ljs)

 

 

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