Well, yes and no, depending on which three judges review your case, according to Wired Threat Level.
Case 1: A high-school senior and honor student created a mock MySpace page of his principal, saying he “took drugs and kept beer at his desk.” The student was suspended for 10 days and subsequently sued the school.
Case 2: A high-school junior mocked her principal with a fake MySpace profile, insinuating he was “a sex addict and pedophile.” She, too, was suspended for 10 days and sued.
Both cases wound up in the same circuit court on the same day, but with different 3-judge panels. One suspension went against the school because “the reach of school authorities is not without limits.” The other suspension was upheld: “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.”
Recognizing that it’s not good policy to issue conflicting rulings, both cases will be re-heard in June:
School officials complained the rulings left them unclear on what legal legs they had to stand on when it comes to punishing students for their online, off-campus speech.
In my humble, non-legal opinion, I offer the solution to both of these cases, and it has nothing to do with the school’s legs, legal or otherwise. Nor does it have anything to do with First Amendment rights.
- Throw out the suspensions, because school’s should not be able to abuse their authority to govern off-campus activities.
- The principals – as individuals not school authorities – should file their own lawsuits based on slander, the same way that Hollywood “stars” file slander lawsuits against yellow-rag journalists. If the student’s want to exercise their “free speech” as adults, they should come under the same laws that other adults do.
This presumes that the statements the students made were, in fact, lies. If they’re the truth, however, local law enforcement should conduct investigations and file the appropriate charges against the principals.