Judges Divided On Right Of Schools To Punish Students For Mocking Principals Online

from the free-speech-or-reasonable-discipline dept

We've had a number of different stories over the years about students making use of social networks to make fun of or taunt teachers, principals and administrators -- which often ended with schools disciplining those students. However, for years, courts have held that schools have no right to discipline students for speech that occurs off-campus. The Supreme Court muddied the waters on this issue recently in its decision on the "Morse case," better known as the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, where a student was disciplined for unfurling a banner with that phrase on it at a school-sponsored Olympic torch rally. The Supreme Court indicated that the fact that the event was school-sponsored gave the school the right to discipline the students -- but that's opening up plenty of questions in two separate cases in the same circuit where it looks like judges are somewhat split on the issue (via Michael Scott). The key issue, of course, is what constitutes a school-related event. If students are passing out the info on such fake social networking websites to classmates, is it school sponsored? That seems to be the claim some administrators are making, saying that if it influences activities at the school, then the school can discipline the students. With so many different opinions, it seems almost certain that this issue is going to show up a lot more before the courts finally settle the matter.


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  •  
    identicon
    Norman, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 11:25pm

    Mocking School Officials After Hours

    This shoud be pretty cut and dry. The schools have no place punishing behavior off school grounds. If they have a roblem let the parents deal with it.

     

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      John, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 12:18am

      Re: Mocking School Officials After Hours

      I am not as certain as Norman. A public official is open to legitimate criticism for official acts. But if the remarks are personal, the official has a right to protect her own reputation or that of school employees.


      It really comes down to the facts surrounding the incidents.

       

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        Bobby, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 1:23am

        Re: Re: Mocking School Officials After Hours

        >But if the remarks are personal,
        >the official has a right to protect her
        >own reputation or that of school employees.

        Aren't there proper avenues for handling that? Should the administration of a school be allowed to abuse its power?

        What recourse does a non-school administrator have if a school student does something? Or what about if a non-student does something similar to an administrator? what then?
        Clearly there are other paths of action that don't blatantly disregard the student's rights and civil liberties. We do have a a system in place. They should try using it.

         

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        Kevin, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 4:05am

        Re: Re: Mocking School Officials After Hours

        The school official may have a right to protect their own reputation or that of school employees, but that right doesn't extend to punishing students for lawful exercise of free speech. Let them sue for libel/slander instead.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 6:02pm

        Re: Re: Mocking School Officials After Hours

        But if the remarks are personal, the official has a right to protect her own reputation or that of school employees.

        That's what libel and slander laws and courts are for. "Protecting your own" is often just an excuse to take the law into your own hands. These school officials should be asked how they would like it if parents did the same whenever they felt an official had wronged their children.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 7:13am

      Re: Mocking School Officials After Hours

      Good thing, they cannot punish for off school behavior, because otherwise you might have a roblem.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 5:09pm

        Re: Re: Mocking School Officials After Hours

        Actually, my brother was punished for something he did out of school. After school one day, another kid from the school wouldn't stop hanging out in front of our yard, so my brother threatened to squirt him with the hose. The kid tattled to his mommy, who called the principal and got my brother suspended for a day. This was completely after school and off school property, and completely overreaching, so being punished for online stuff is sure to be a target.

         

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      bry, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 7:33am

      Re: Mocking School Officials After Hours

      your totaly right i a teacher was to ver put thier hand on my child it will be harsh with ill do to them ill end up in prison

       

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    drewmerc (profile), Jun 10th, 2009 @ 1:45am

    what about satire
    do school admin's have a hope

     

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    Rob, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 5:23am

    I am tired of schools thinking that it is their job to run their students' lives. It really is just a question of jurisdiction in my mind. The school's jurisdiction ends at the front door (or the edge of the property). If the student in question were making these comments on a schools computer, then the school might be in the right in disciplining them. I say 'might' because if the students were voicing legitimate concerns in a reasonable manner, then I would support their rights to speak out unfettered on or off school grounds. I am no longer of this age group (I am 25 now), but I still remember the demeaning manner in which people feel that it is okay to talk down to high school kids, and still harbor some resentment to this day. If the schools would just treat students with a modicum of decency and look upon them as fellow human beings, rather than underlings to be subdued, a lot of these problems would go away.

    I know I am rambling a bit here, but doesn't it also speak to the character of the principal and teachers that they would be petty and childish enough to care that someone was making fun of them online? Can't they just choose to be the bigger person and ignore it?

     

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      Sean T Henry (profile), Jun 10th, 2009 @ 8:06am

      Re: Still

      I will start by saying that I am all for free speech, and think all people should be allowed to voice their opinion no matter what it is. That includes what they think of someone, religious views, advocating use of condoms, or "Bong Hits 4 Jesus".

      With that said it is the schools job to run students lives when attending school, outside to school and school events thats a different case. I include school events because at things like school dances, field trips, ect. when the school is responsible for the students.

      Now making comments about a school official online it should not matter if it was done in the school or at home (other than the website may have been in violation of the schools Authorized User Policy but that is a different issue). Posting something about the principal is okay saying false and/or damaging things could/has led to a law suite.

      Getting lawyers involved in things should always be the last resort. In the case of the fake Myspace page the principal should have had a backup as proof that the page existed made the student remove the profile (watch it being removed) then give him one hour of after school detention on a Friday. That would have saved money by preventing going to court.

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 6:12pm

        Re: Re: Still

        Getting lawyers involved in things should always be the last resort.

        No, it shouldn't. It should come before taking the law into your own hands.

         

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 10th, 2009 @ 9:23am

      Re:

      "The school's jurisdiction ends at the front door (or the edge of the property). If the student in question were making these comments on a schools computer, then the school might be in the right in disciplining them."

      This actually used to be the case, at least where I grew up. There was a time when we used to stand on the other side of the street in the back of the school and smoke our morning cigarrette in full view of school teachers/admins who really couldn't do a lick about it as we were off campus. We'd put out our butts, walk across the street, say good morning, and go to school.

      Then one day one of the H.S. Campus security cop-wannabes drove over to where we were smoking (because he was entirely too fat to actually walk anywhere), announced that we were all in trouble, and stuck us in the back of the car. The dean of students informed us that she had gotten permission from the school board to give us detentions and/or other punishments for smoking IN VIEW of school officials. I politely informed her that the school board could give her permission to do a lot of things outside of their jurisdiction, unfortunately that didn't give her any actual power to do so.

      Long story short, the teacher that did US History and ran the Law Team decided to take up our cause, we ended up going to court over it, and the judge sided with us. We kept smoking (actually more so, since we knew it annoyed the school). Unfortunately, the Law Team teacher was let go the next year.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 6:17pm

        Re: Re:

        Unfortunately, the Law Team teacher was let go the next year.

        Sounds about right, couldn't have students actually learning things, now could we? Most schools are more about indoctrination than education.

         

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 5:26am

    And, school administrators and teachers do not have a right to strip search students, no matter what. If they think a crime has been committed, then call the police.

     

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    Ronald J Riley (profile), Jun 10th, 2009 @ 7:58am

    Common for schools to try and trample rights.

    This should be a clear First Amendment issue. It is ironic that while schools are teaching children about their rights that many also try to trample speech and property rights.

    Beyond this there are other issues such as schools entering contracts to force one brand of product on students.

    I come from a family of teachers and have great respect for dedicated and effective teachers. It is unfortunate that those who cannot teach have a tendency to become coaches and administrators. Many of the problems schools get into are a direct result of incompetent administrators.

    One notable case which comes to mind is the University of South Florida where the top dog was dismissed after he suppressed a serial rape case to allow the perpetrator to to continue playing sports. The same idiot also put one of their undergrad students in jail with a bogus trademark claim as a gambit to steal his inventions for a corporate sponsor. This has cost the University of South Florida dearly for over a decade.

    Ronald J. Riley,

    Speaking only on my own behalf.
    President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
    Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
    Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
    President - Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (810) 597-0194 - (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Jason, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 9:49am

      Re: Common for schools to try and trample rights.

      Seriously, Ron, if you're "speaking only on my own behalf," then what the hell is the point of:

      President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
      Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
      Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
      President - Alliance for American Innovation
      Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
      Washington, DC
      Direct (810) 597-0194 - (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

      ??

       

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      •  
        icon
        Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 10th, 2009 @ 11:56am

        Re: Re: Common for schools to try and trample rights.

        Well, if all of those organizations consist of only him, then that statement would still be correct. Sad, but correct.

         

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    •  
      icon
      Ronald J Riley (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 3:31am

      Correction: Re: Common for schools to try and trample rights.

      It was a trade secret claim not a trademark claim.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    icon
    farooge (profile), Jun 10th, 2009 @ 8:00am

    And ban those darn cell phones in cars too!

    >> "That seems to be the claim some administrators are making, saying that if it influences activities at the school, then the school can discipline the students."

    Wouldn't tired students also (e?a?)ffect "activities at the school"

    "Go home son - you are suspended for a week. This is the THIRD time I've demanded you get more sleep!"

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 8:43am

      Re: And ban those darn cell phones in cars too!

      Affect. Unless they're initiating the school activities, then they'd be effecting them.

       

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        Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 10th, 2009 @ 9:27am

        Re: Re: And ban those darn cell phones in cars too!

        "Affect. Unless they're initiating the school activities, then they'd be effecting them."

        I think you gave him teh right answer and then went wrong w/the addtional info. Correct me if I'm wrong:

        Effect = noun

        Affect = verb

         

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          identicon
          Jason, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 9:51am

          Re: Re: Re: And ban those darn cell phones in cars too!

          You're wrong.

          effect = noun, verb
          affect = noun, verb

           

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            Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 10th, 2009 @ 11:55am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: And ban those darn cell phones in cars too!

            Usage?:

            I want to affect change

            v.

            I want my change to have an effect

            *I think I get how effect can be a verb. How can affect by a noun?

             

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    Whisk33, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 8:20am

    Get the facts straight

    The Supreme Court indicated that the fact that the event was school-sponsored gave the school the right to discipline the students..
    The key issue, of course, is what constitutes a school-related event. If students are passing out the info on such fake social networking websites to classmates, is it school sponsored
    ?

    You need to get the facts straight. There could be a big difference between related and sponsored... One implies the school's blessings/backing/views/opinions. Related is much more ambiguous. I think the school related events (study groups, homework sessions, student run myspace/facebook groups etc.) would not hold the school liable for the actions the school related events take.

    A school sponsored event could likely hold the school directly liable for views,expresions and actions contained within them.

     

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    identicon
    Jason, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 9:57am

    Fortunately....

    Judges Give OK for Online Mocking of Judges Who Can't Sift Through Bullshit Just Because it Involves Kids at School

     

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    Joppy (profile), Jun 10th, 2009 @ 12:32pm

    Take the gloves off

    I know that most schools have rules that limit off-campus interaction between teachers and students, but what if we just took the gloves off?

    In other words, let the teachers/principals/whoever fight back online. Example scenario:

    Jimmy (student) on Facebook says: Mr Pasquerella is fugly as hell, and he has really bad BO.

    Mr. Pasquerella (teacher) on FB: Well, that's really cute Jimmy, but the fact is that your Momma never complains about my dashing looks OR my BO. She did, however, tell me that she wishes she aborted her waste-of-flesh kid--who couldn't get a D in social studies if his life depended on it--when she had the chance.

     

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    identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 3:05pm

    School censorship

    How do you get from "school sponsorship" to "affects school activities"? I don't doubt that some attorney (in desperation) will argue a connection, and some courts might entertain such a flimsy construct, but "knee-jerk" reaction; there is no connection.

     

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    identicon
    teknosapien, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 3:08pm

    This speaks volumes of the

    moralities and maturity of the educators in question.

    Face it these are kids that, for better or worse are going to make mistakes and who's perceptions are maybe a bit skewed do to age and lack of seasoning. This is part of growing up and in some instances a "child" will mis-speak and/or not agree with the administrators.

    Seriously, everytime I see something like this I thank god I don't live in a school district where my child could have been a victim of an over zealous educator with a thin skin that cant take a bit of criticism from a child. this approach to what may, or may not be right, lends to the litigious nature of our current society. Teachers teaching that if you dont like what was said then you should sue.

    If a teacher or administrator had an issue with me as child/student then my parents were brought into the picture not a judge and lawyer
    It's time that the educators acted their age and and lead by example not by intimidation and litigation

     

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    bry, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 7:42am

    Mocking School Officials After Hours

    i think that school officials should call parents if they have a problem with it then if parents don't do anything or don't take action for it then start dogging them back cussing and all

    i let my kids have freedom of speech i don't care what the language i as long as its not used in school or around school mates who have a big mouth i perosonaly dont care what launguge my kids speak

     

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