Judge Says School Can Suspend Student For Fake MySpace Page Of Principal

from the questionable-reading-of-the-legal-tea-leaves dept

Just about a month ago we wrote about a principal losing a lawsuit against some students for posting a fake MySpace page pretending to be the principal. However, in a different case, a court has ruled that a school has every right to suspend students for creating a fake MySpace page of a principal. The two cases are different in a few ways, as the first one involved the principal suing the student, rather than just suspending the student. That said, the ruling by the court in this case seems problematic, and I'd be surprised if it was upheld on appeal (assuming the student appeals). The Supreme Court's famous Tinker v. Des Moines case established the precedent that schools can't punish students for protected free speech -- especially if that speech takes place off of the school campus. The court said that other Supreme Court rulings applied over Tinker, but both of the cases it cites in support involve disruptive actions at school events. A MySpace page created at home doesn't seem to qualify. Either way, if the principal's intent was to get the pages hidden so people didn't talk about them, this resulting lawsuit seems to have created the opposite situation.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Freedom, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 1:20pm

    Impersonate ...

    >> students for posting a fake MySpace page pretending to be the principal.

    Maybe someone can explain to me why it isn't illegal to impersonate someone. Virtually or otherwise unless such impersonation is such that it is obviously not the actual person - i.e. comedy act, parody, etc.

    If someone puts up a page that couldn't pass the moron test or whatever they use for trademarks, then there seems to be something wrong with the law that makes this acceptable.

    Freedom

     

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    Don, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 1:34pm

    Depends on context

    I think there might be two sides to this. If it's factually based or a parody I don't see why it should be suppressed. However, if it's not factually accurate then do what you must. Just need more info than what's available in the posting.

     

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      BTR1701, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 5:55pm

      Re: Depends on context

      > if it's not factually accurate then do what you must.

      If it's false and defamatory, then the principal's remedy would be the same as anyone else who has been defamed: sue the student for damages.

      But what he can't do is use his position of power as the kid's principal to exact summary justice and punish him by expelling him from school.

       

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    Principal kevjohn, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 2:00pm

    Darn

    I hate rooting for something that could possibly limit free speech, but I'm on the judge's/school's (AKA The Man) side. The question is what were they doing with the page? Was it just a parody? I can picture someone making a very legitimate-looking page and disseminating "official" information to the students and parents, in a targeted way. Such as a school closing because of a gas leak, or announcements of a rash of violent crimes on school property, or a variety of other semi-believable proclamations that could incite panic among the students/parents.

    Yes, I have a low opinion of the IQ of the Average Joe.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 2:00pm

    I really don't think what she did falls under protected free speech. It's not factual and being a parody seems like a really loooong stretch.

    If that is that case, I think criminal charges would have been more appropriate. Since there was no actual disruption at school they shouldn't have been able to suspend her. imho

     

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    hegemon13, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 2:03pm

    Law vs. School Policy

    There is a difference between what is prosecutable and what can be punished with suspension. In this case, the kid falsely impersonated the principal. I hardly see how that is free speech. If he said negative things about him as himself, that would be another issue entirely, and he should not be suspended for it, unless they were overly offensive and took place during school time.

    I have no problem with the kid getting suspended. It is a short-term punishment, not something that will haunt him forever. He did something stupid that he knew had the potential to get him in trouble, and now he has to spend a week by himself in a little room (or at home, depending on the school). This is not at all the same as expulsion, which would be going way too far.

    The fact is, a student can be suspended for perfectly legal activities. Calling the president a jerk (or worse) to his face will probably get at least a detention if not a suspension, but there is nothing illegal about it. Cheating on a test may also be met with suspension, though it is not against the law. What school policy can dish out to students is not based on law, and as long as it is not out of line, I don't see why the courts should have ruled against the school.

     

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    Overcast, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 2:09pm

    Well, well - I sense opportunity in this.

    Like a big corporation would - maybe these kids should 'out source' the creation of fake MySpace pages.

    A Third party could put up the page, then it would make things much tougher indeed. Particularly if it was a company that specializes in publishing 'parody content' for example. Then there's a whole new entity - backed with investment capital they would have to sue.

    As a matter of fact, perhaps that's a new market just waiting to be tapped: "Personal Outsourcing" - Could outsource all sorts of things - why not? Corporations do it, so they can get cheap employees that they don't have to pay medical benefits for.

    I bet inventice minds could find all manners of loopholes in this mentality. Why not? Corporations have.

    Could 'outsource' getting one's music/movies from Torrent for exmaple. The company could basically form a new 'subsidy' for each customer, and if there was a problem, they could just file bankruptcy. Heck - maybe the government would even bail them out - like AIG!!!! Why not? Just three years ago there was some 'questionable' accounting there.

    Who knows? :)

     

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    Platypus, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 2:11pm

    Backing the School this time

    If the students can do what they want with no punishment possible, how on earth will schools maintain order, respect, etc? Free speech is one thing, but impersonating a school official seems to be quite another.
    "The court said that other Supreme Court rulings applied over Tinker, but both of the cases it cites in support involve disruptive actions at school events. A MySpace page created at home doesn't seem to qualify."
    I would say fine to this, as long as the MySpace page was NEVER accessed from school. As soon as it was seen on school property, it should fall under school authority to punish those responsible. The Principal must retain respect, or he/she has no real hope of running an effective school!

     

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    Silvermane, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 2:29pm

    More lawsuits??

    What's next?

    Where people sue because others on MySpace do not post accurate information about themselves?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 3:48pm

    If the student was discussing this page and disemminating information on it on school grounds, and the information on the site portrayed the principal in a false light, then I totally agree with the judge.

     

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    Adam, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 4:06pm

    Since when is myspace considered a valid source

    Since when is myspace considered a valid source for information on a person ..............ive seen some pretty good looking 99 year olds from antarctica

     

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    Dayne Kaufman, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 4:29pm

    Streisand Effect

    ...need I say more?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2008 @ 5:22am

    Depends if on if it passes the Miller test. If it cannot it would not even be protected under the 1st amendment. What not all speech is protected under the 1st amendment?

     

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    Annony, Sep 20th, 2008 @ 6:33am

    Can't the kid/s be sued for identity theft??
    Kids need to learn how to respect people in authority like parents, teachers, principals, etc. I think there should be a way of making sure that happens at home and school.
    Sadly lack of respect that starts when Kids are young can carry over when they are older to a lack of regard for rules, etc.

     

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      acb123, Sep 20th, 2008 @ 8:07am

      Re:

      Respect has to be earned. It is not a given that must be acknowledged. Age has nothing to do with it.

      Possibly what you meant to say is that kids need to understand their place in society. Until they are over 18 (in the us) they are subject to certain restrictions.

      Oh, and this is not even close to being identity theft.

       

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    Ferin (profile), Sep 22nd, 2008 @ 5:30am

    What about bong hits for jesus?

    I'm not so sure it's a clear cut win for the kid in the supreme court. I remeber that case with the kid holding the bong hits for jesus banner. He was across the street from the school, and the supreme court agreed the school had the right to punish him over it.

     

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    Jubilee, Sep 22nd, 2008 @ 8:39am

    The judge ruled correctly

    There's more detail at the following link as to what the kids posted and why the judge ruled against them. http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080922-judge-school-can-suspend-students-over-fake-myspace-pr ofile.html

    Clearly it was not a parody and was meant to ruin the principal, paint him as a pedophile and degrade him. They made it a public page so it was intended for anyone and everyone to see and was the subject of discussion at the very school he worked at. They were not expressing their own opinions which would have been covered by freedom of speech. They were posting as if they were him.

    Yes, kids can be stupid, thoughtless and cruel. But what's most disturbing to me is that the parents of one of the kid-iots actually sued over their perceived notion that their daughter's freedom of speech had been violated.

    If it had been my kid who posted that, I wouldn't be supporting and applauding her. I'd be grounding her and trying to get her to understand actions have consequences and her actions were cruel and cowardly.

    Yet I'd bet if someone had done the same thing to them or their kids, they'd be the first ones in line calling for a beheading.

     

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    Sneeje, Sep 22nd, 2008 @ 8:55am

    Free-speech is a good value; but so helping administrators

    Yes of course free-speech is an important value and consideration, but to quote a famous and fictitious mathematician... "just because you could, doesn't mean you should."

    In other words, while it is always important for the freedom of speech to be recognized, aren't there cases when perhaps it shouldn't trump other values? I'd like to see the community work together to support the educators--not beat them over the head with the 1st amendment. The parents ought to be telling the kid that yes, you have the right to free speech, but that doesn't mean it is appropriate or reasonable to apply it whenever you get the urge.

     

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    Doug (profile), Sep 22nd, 2008 @ 9:44am

    The parents are morons

    I urge you to look at the link posted above by Jubilee

    How dare the parents sue the school district. Have we no shame anymore? Who in their right mind would defend their childs "right" to do something like this?

    The parents should have to pay the schools fees to defend themselves and be sent to a parental training class to learn how to behave in society. This is utterly preposterous.

    If this was my child, they would be forbidden indefinitely from using the computer while still under my roof. They would further lose all privileges indefinitely. The fact that the parents and the ACLU sued the school district only goes on to enforce this child's belief that she can do no wrong.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 22nd, 2008 @ 6:02pm

    Yeah yeah yeah ... the kids are idiots ...
    That does not justify the abuse of position. The principal has a valid case in civil court, but should not have retaliated by abusing his position.

     

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    tim stevens, Sep 22nd, 2008 @ 10:35pm

    sue the government union school

    as an appendage of the state, the school must respect the constitution. you know that "living document" thing which liberals like to reinterpret regularly which mentions outdated stuff such freedom of the press, of assembly, reasonable search, etc.

    and remember your history. the courts created the concept of a "public figure" (nyt vs sullivan) which could be lambasted publicly with little protection from public ridicule. a principal which sues sure looks like a public figure now.

    also it seems that every few years, the courts eliminate more and more speech from protection "clear and present/potential danger", "fighting words", "incitement to riot", "porn", "child porn", "drugs and drug paraphernalia" and lets not forget those wonderful secret search warrants and those secret "ID required to fly" rules.

    so, full speed ahead with the appeal and stick it to those government union thugs.

    if that doesn't work, maybe a few dozen other students will make their own version of "my principal is a douche."

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 23rd, 2008 @ 5:38am

      Re: sue the government union school

      "which liberals like to reinterpret"

      That is nonpartisan, or have you missed the last eight years ?

       

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      Sneeje, Sep 23rd, 2008 @ 6:09am

      Re: sue the government union school

      Wow, that's great. A world where actions never have consequences; anyone can say whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of who it impacts; and educators are so scared to handle students that our schools become non-functioning. Wow, sounds great--let's all hide behind the first amendment so we can behave as selfishly as we want.

      I can say f--- you to every person I meet in a public place, but that doesn't mean anyone should applaud me.

       

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    sam, Sep 23rd, 2008 @ 10:33am

    so?

    Im not saying I agree with what the student did, but he can still do whatever he wants. he can say anything he like, freedom of prees, to assemble peacfully, religon, and speech. Get over it you stupid liberals, watch some Glen Beck, that'll change your minds. Oh and the first ammendment, gives us the right to be selfish, and the right for me to say you're an idiot.

     

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    Dewy, Sep 24th, 2008 @ 8:18am

    Free speech does not include defamatory or vulgar speech, which is what was posted publicly. It was covered in the school handbook that the students could not impersonate school officials, and that was the legal grounds for the suspension.

    The parents had an opportunity to appeal to the school board, but went straight to a lawsuit.

    Sorry folks, not a violation of free speech, or any of the students rights, and I'd like to applaud the principal who could have sued, but instead took appropriate action to establish this was a violation of school policy.

    This should set an example to the other children to NOT IMPERSONATE OR DEFAME SCHOOL OFFICIALS.

     

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