In Part 1, student J. S. of the Blue Mountain School District (Pennsylvania) sued her school district claiming her right of freedom of speech was violated when she receeved a suspension for posting verbal assaults against her principal and guidance counselor. On June 13, 2011, in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, she won!
That’s not all: Hermitage (Pennsylvania) High School senior Justin Layshock also used MySpace to make fun of his principal. Using his grandmother’s computer, Layshock created a fake profile of Eric Trosch. Like J. S., Layshock used vulgar language and homophobic slurs. He accused his principal of committing the crimes of drug abuse, drunkenness, and shoplifting. Layshock later admitted creating the profile and apologized. His parents grounded him. The school district decided to suspend Layshock for 10 days, transfer him to an alternative high school, ban him from all extracurricular activities, and prohibit him from participating in the graduation ceremony. That’s when – you guessed it – Layshock and his parents sued Trosch and the school district. Right – claiming a free speech violation, on June 13, 2011, he too won his case.
Are you surprised? Outraged? The fact is that students can be punished for their off-campus speech, such as Cyberspeech, if it is likely to cause a substantial disruption of the school, e.g., a post urging students to walkout during school. But speech that simply ridicules or demeans school employees, or others? The fourteen judges on the Layshock court declared, “We do not think that the First Amendment can tolerate the School District stretching its authority into Justin’s grandmother’s home and reaching Justin while he is sitting at her computer after school.” The vote in the J.S. case was not unanimous. The majority of eight judges ruled that schools can’t punish students for posting non-disruptive speech on the Internet, even if it is “lewd, vulgar, and offensive.”
According to Akron Public Schools’ website, “The Board of Education believes that the consideration of controversial issues has a legitimate place in the instructional program of the schools.
Properly introduced and conducted, the consideration of such issues can help students learn to identify important issues, explore fully and fairly all sides of an issue, weigh carefully the values and factors involved, and develop techniques for formulating and evaluating positions.”
The Supreme Court eventually may have to make decisions about student free speech on the Internet. Blue Mountain School District School officials already have announced that they will ask the High Court to overturn the circuit court decision in the J.S. case. Eric Trosch has filed a lawsuit against Justin Layshock for libel and identity theft.
What do you think?