Court Disagrees On Whether Or Not Schools Can Punish Students Over Fake Social Network Pages

from the first-amendment? dept

We were just discussing whether or not a school can punish students for their social networking activity, and now we’ve got two legal rulings on the subject. Unfortunately, they seem to conflict with each other, despite coming from the same appeals circuit!

Both cases involved students creating fake MySpace profiles of the schools’ principals. Both students were punished, but in one case the court said the school went too far (“Public schools are vital institutions, but their reach is not unlimited…”) while the other said it was fine (“We decline to say that simply because the disruption to the learning environment originates from a computer located off campus, the school should be left powerless to discipline the student.”). The difference appears to be that in the latter case, the school claimed that the fake profile resulted in disruption in the classroom because “students were talking about the profile rather than paying attention to class.”

That seems like a pretty fine line, because now a school will have to do is suggest that students in the school were discussing an activity that took place outside of school to allow the school to punish the student for off-campus speech. From a First Amendment standpoint, that seems pretty difficult to accept — and certainly seems to go against the principles set forth by the famous Tinker decision concerning free speech rights of students on campus.

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Comments on “Court Disagrees On Whether Or Not Schools Can Punish Students Over Fake Social Network Pages”

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Shawn (profile) says:

The difference appears to be that in the latter case, the school claimed that the fake profile resulted in disruption in the classroom because “students were talking about the profile rather than paying attention to class.”

I hope that school deals harshly with any students that are found talking about the Super Bowl rather than paying attention in class.


Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Actually, the person at fault is the NFL in that case. Because the NFL created the super bowl and that is causing a disruption to class. Clearly the school should sue the NFL.”

Not to mention Cindy. They should clearly file suit against Cindy, who finally blossomed into womanhood, thereby causing all the boys to spend more time talking about her fun-bags as opposed to the lovely curriculum sent over by the RIAA that they were supposed to be learning….

Revelati says:

Perhaps we should do away with this silly judicial system altogether and elect principals to be judge, jury, and executioner.

“I find you guilty of making fun of the principal on the internet! You are hereby sentenced to 40 years manual labor in the gulag, and must write a 5 page essay about why the principal is so awesome. May god have mercy on your soul!”

The schools authority reaches to the end of the school grounds, period. For things that people do while they are not in school we have this other thing called “THE LAW” If you feel like you are being defamed then you can call “THE LAW” and take your case to “A COURT”

Why do so many people think this is a new concept?

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Since when does the First Amendment apply to minors?

“It’s always been my understanding that monors weren’t guarenteed too much by the constitution at all until they become of age.”

Actually, the exact opposite is true. Minors can have some of their constitutional rights suppressed in ways that adults can’t, particularly in the case of students, but those are the exception, not the rule. There have been several important case rulings that have highlighted minor’s protection of constitutional rights. For example:

1. Public schools in particular have to prove that its constitutional violations are for a higher purpose or stem from its in loco parentis responsibilities (Derived from English Common Law, but limited by many subsequent case precedence)

2. Supreme Court ruled that students could not be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance nor otherwise salute the flag against their will (Board V. Barnette)

3. Supreme Court ruled that students wearing black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War could not be forced to remove the arm bands by school officials. As written in Tinker, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” (Tinker V. Des Moines)

4. Justice Douglas wrote a dissent in a hair-length case for Olff v East Side Union, in which he stated that school rules enforcing length of hair could not be applied absolutely (404 US 1042 [1972]).

The other side of the coin, in which the courts or SCOTUS have applied the in loco parentis stipulation are normally EXTREMELY narrowly defined….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Since when does the First Amendment apply to minors?

If we start allowing the idea that we can remove constitutial protections from one class of people, why limit ourselves?

Minors cannot think for themselves, we must must not be bound by the constitution.
The mentally ill are no better then children, so they must not be given the protections lest they hurt themselves.
The poor obviously make bad choices, for if they did not they would be better off. To help them they are not covered by the constituion.
Those registered as independents clearly cannot make up thier mind. Since they are indecisive, and obviously cannot be trusted, we must limit them.
And finally…
The (Republican/Democratic) are clearlly mentally defective, since they oppose the Presental Party* and therefor they must not be afforded the same protection of the children.
*Whoever is in power at this point.

As always, the key word should be ‘ALL’, as in ALL INCLUSIVE. If a legitimate problem is present, it should be delt with, but stripping the rights from an entire group, NO MATTER THE GROUP, is a unacceptable threat.

J. Arthur Crank says:

This sentence is confusing

Is this a run-on?

“The difference appears to be that in the latter case, the school claimed that the fake profile resulted in disruption in the classroom because “students were talking about the profile rather than paying attention to class.”

I have no idea what it is you’re trying to convey. But if teachers can’t keep their customer’s interest, they should re-evaluate their professional career choice. It’s possible that they’ll find more rewarding success in their longterm transaction goals by working at the local grocery checkout stand. Teachers who engage their students outside of school probably aren’t particularly good at their job, and need to quietly be shown the door.

Jimr (profile) says:

I have dealt with a similar issue where a teacher/school tried to control our grade school life after school hours. Some refused and they tried implement punishment for it in the form of detention. At the end of the day I got up and was about to leave when the teacher reminded me of the detention and I said no and I would view the detention as unlawful confinement and if they have any problems they can contact the police. Of the 20 kids they tired to punish for after school actives only 3 of us refused and held our ground.
I am sure it cost all 10-20% off our final mark but felt good to stick it to the teachers. It was really sad that the only self gratification a teacher can get is to bully there students.

BTW: There always is a Cindy in every school/work to talk about when not talking about football.

taoareyou (profile) says:

Not to sound like an old Codger

When I went to school, and people were talking in class and not paying attention, the ones at fault were those doing the talking.

When did it change that the talkers are not to blame but rather the ones they were talking about?

If this ruling were to actually have any validity, students could simply talk about another student and get that student disciplined.

The school’s actions are not justified. The court’s ruling is unconstitutional in the latter case.

btr1701 (profile) says:


Once again, it seems that the adult world has forgotten what it was like to be a kid and how quickly kids can find ways around things.

Should this become widespread– punishing kids for what they do at home with their own computers– it won’t be long before the kids realize that the only reason they can be punished is because they go to that school and the school has authority over them– and conversely that it doesn’t have authority over anyone else.

So… if finding some public computer at a library or something to use for their mockery pages is too much trouble, an easy solution would be to find someone (older brother, sister, friend, neighbor, etc.) who doesn’t go to that school and over whom the school has no authority (but who conveniently lives in the same house or right next door) to put the fake MySpace or Facebook (or whatever) page up under their name.

How long do you think it’ll take for kids to figure this out?

Liquid (profile) says:

All this is, is a case of an adult getting butt hurt over the fact that some snot nosed brats insulted them on the internet. So instead of trying to sue the family over the defamatory speech of their child. This adult would rather show how butt hurt they are, and try to exact their “Godly Principle Powers” over said child. For what ever reason they have this god complex cause they rule over a bunch of minors.

No people just need to buck up, and stop getting so butt hurt over retarded subjects like this. Oh wait I said retarded now Sarah Palin will tell me not to use the “R” word, and then tell me I need to resign from my job. Another cause of someone getting butt hurt of something someone else had said.

Matt (profile) says:

This isn't just a speech issue

Without details of how the fake myspace page was setup how can you judge the school for disciplining? Was it obvious that it was a parody page? I’ve dealt with this many times as an attorney for private schools (obviously different re: 1st Am. issues) but they can be downright nasty.

Would it change your mind if it wasn’t obvious that the page was a parody and it said things that cast the teacher/administrator as a sex offender? Or a drug addict, etc? Realistically photo-shopped pictures of the teacher in fake compromising situations?

I think if the student was merely expressing his negative opinions on his own MySpace page it would be a clear free speech issue — but you’re dealing with a level of dishonesty here that certainly could create a discipline issue in the way it is executed by the student.

As I said, without details, this one is impossible to judge from media accounts alone.

Liquid (profile) says:

Re: This isn't just a speech issue

But to discipline a child for what goes on outside of school halls, and school grounds is not the responsibility of the school faculty. Nor should it ever be their responsibility. This is another way for parents to get out of disciplining their children. If the person was that pissed off at the fact that some child made fun of him he should take the situation up with the parents. Then let the parents punish the child how they see fit.

Or how about this. If the teacher just opened them selves up for it. I had a teacher in school that would come in to class every Monday hung over. Hell had another teach ask a student flat out in class if he would like to go to the Bahama’s with her in the middle of class. Hell I had another teacher grope girls in typing class by leaning over one should rubbing his arms on them, and looking down their shirts. Heck same guy would stare at each of the girls as they walked by. So if the person did that kind of stuff, and student brought that to light guess what they left them selves open to it.

So getting all butt hurt, and trying to all epic nerd rage on a kid for someone they say out side of class is BS.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Re: This isn't just a speech issue

“In-school discipline is for in-school activities.” Why? Is that how it is in the real world? What you do/say outside of work has no impact on your employment? Don’t be silly. Of course it does. What virtue is there in giving students the false impression that free speech equals no consequences? I think it would be better to teach students accountability. (And some horrible teachers from the sounds of Liquid’s experience!)

The point of education is to provide a “practice” environment to teach students life’s lessons in a way that they can use and apply to the real world when they get out of school. I should think school discipline would be a far better and lower level of consequence than running to the police or the court system for enforcement. The story doesn’t say the school expelled the student — just that they were disciplined.

I see no compelling reason why the school cannot use this as an opportunity to teach through appropriate discipline.

BBT says:

The choices are suck it up and ignore it, or charge the kid with slander. In-school discipline is not an option. The student’s actions should be dealt with exactly the way they would be if they were taken by a non-student. In-school discipline is for in-school activities. For out-of-school activities, you need out-of-school discipline (the police). If you don’t have a case that justifies the police, sucks to be you.

Liquid (profile) says:

You sir sound like one of these parents who fail to do their job in disciplining their own child/children, and would rather hand that responsibility off to someone else. It is no one else’s job to discipline a child other than the parents. Schools have no right to discipline a child unless it is in or on school property while that child is in their care. You just don’t dump your child off somewhere to someone going “HERE YEAH GO make this child a responsible adult, and I’ll come back at to get them then.”?

Also on your point of your job being impacted by anything that I do outside the doors of my place of business is false. If I go to a bar, and I get completely crap faced. While I am there I make a complete fool of myself. The people there know I work at my place of business. They don’t automatically go “OMG that company hires these types of people”?. No they do not that is the furthest thing from their minds, and the same is said of those that do not know me. Now if I go to something that is part of a company event, and I do the same thing then yes it will affect my job. The same could be said about me. If I see someone do something stupid even if I know where they work. I don’t go “OMG they hired this guy to work there.”

Last time I checked it was not the schools job to teach children the ways of the world or life’s lessons. You are thinking about church. Schools are merely here to educate future generations so when they graduate, and enter “life”? they aren’t complete morons. Often times that isn’t the case they still come out dumber then a box of crap. Life’s lessons are merely a bi-product of the social interactions of human beings, and the different interactions of their environmental situations. That is how children are taught the rights, and wrongs of the world. Even then going even earlier in child development it is the parents responsibility to make sure that their children know right and wrong. Educators cannot teach that.

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