How far reaching can schools be in policing the behavior of students?
The U.S. Supreme Court had a chance to settle once and for all whether school officials can discipline students for their off-hours, off-school-property activities on social networking sites.
Instead, it punted.
The Court refused to hear two cases, one that said school officials could discipline the students, and one that said school officials cannot.
In Pennsylvania, the parents of a 17-year old senior sued a principal who suspended the student because she created a MySpace page that described him as a “hairy sex addict” and a “pervert” who liked “hitting on students” in his office.
In that case, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals said the school cannot discipline students for their conduct outside of the schoolhouse.
But in another case, the Fourth Circuit Court of appeals ruled a West Virginia senior could be suspended for her MySpace profile that made fun of another girl as a “slut” who had herpes.
In Kowalski’s appeal, her lawyer described her as a cheerleader and “the reigning ‘charm queen’ of her school,” but the appeals court threw out her free-speech suit. She “used the Internet to orchestrate a targeted attack on a classmate,” the judges said.
“The court needs to explain when school officials have the power to regulate off-campus student speech,” David L. Hudson, a First Amendment scholar at Vanderbilt told the Los Angeles Times last week. “The phenomenon of cyber-bullying ratchets up the importance of the issue.”
By the way, with the Supreme Court rejection of the appeal in the Pennsylvania case, the school district of the principal who was falsely accused of being a “hairy sex addict” now has to pay the ACLU’s attorney fees and damages to the parents who fought it their daughter’s suspension..
If you’re a school official, is it worth fighting when the parents start calling?