ERIC Number: EJ894688
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010-May
Reference Count: 4
Taylor, Kelley R.
Principal Leadership, v10 n9 p8-10 May 2010
On February 18, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit (covering Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Virgin Islands) handed down rulings in two different cases involving regulation of student speech when that speech takes place online and off campus. The rulings--one that favored the school district defendant and the other that favored the student plaintiff--have added to existing confusion over whether schools may legally regulate student speech when such speech takes place online, but off campus. In 2005, using his grandmother's computer during nonschool hours, a high school student created a fake Internet profile of his principal on the social networking site MySpace. The parody, which contained a real photo of the principal, contained answers to profile questions that were written by the student in such a way as to mock the principal. Later that year during an investigation, the student admitted to creating the profile and apologized to school officials both verbally and in a letter. Later, following a hearing, the student was found guilty of an array of infractions. The student received a 10-day suspension from school and was placed in an in-school alternative education program for the remainder of the school year. Consequently, the student's parents filed suit against the school district alleging, among other things, violation of their son's constitutional right to free speech. In ruling in favor of the student ("Layschock v. Hermitage School District, 2010"), the court reasoned that school officials have less authority to regulate speech and expression that takes place off campus than speech that occurs on school grounds. On the same day as the "Layschock" decision, a three-judge panel also in the 3rd Circuit handed down a 2-1 ruling in favor of a school district that had disciplined a student for off-campus, online speech. In the case, "J. S. v. Blue Mountain School District (2010)," a middle school student was suspended from school for 10 days after eventually admitting that she used her home computer to create a phony MySpace profile that was designed to mock her school's principal. The student included a legitimate photograph of the principal on the profile page, accompanied by "profanity-laced statements insinuating that [the principal] was a sex addict and pedophile." The student's parents filed suit, arguing that the school district violated the Constitution when it punished the student for out-of-school conduct that did not cause a disruption of classes. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the school district. They found that although the student created the profile off campus and her behavior did not cause a substantial and material disruption of the school environment, the school district did not violate the student's First Amendment rights by disciplining the student because of "the facts of the case and because the lewd and vulgar off-campus speech [on the profile] had an effect on-campus." These rulings demonstrate that there is much debate over whether the ability to regulate lewd and profane student speech applies to off-campus speech, and about what type of disruption is significant enough to justify school official's regulation of off-campus student speech. Consequently, school administrators should continue to tread carefully in these matters.
Descriptors: School Districts, Court Litigation, School Personnel, Freedom of Speech, Speeches, High Schools, Campuses, Student Rights, Administrators, Principals, Federal Legislation, Social Networks, Web Sites
National Association of Secondary School Principals. 1904 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191-1537. Tel: 800-253-7746; Tel: 703-860-0200; Fax: 703-620-6534; Web site: http://www.principals.org
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: High Schools
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Bethel School District 403 v Fraser; Tinker v Des Moines Independent School District