Schools Suits Against Students Who Mock Them Online
By LAURA HODES
September 24, 2009
...In the latest such lawsuit, the Salon Professional Academy -- a cosmetology school in Elgin, Illinois -- is suing student Nicholas Blacconiere and a John Doe in Kane County Circuit Court. The Academy seeks $50,000 for emotional damages that it alleges were caused by defamatory comments on a Facebook page Blacconiere created. On the page, Blaconniere solicited students to post their comments on the school and its teachers, with the following message: "Dont be afraid to post comments on whats going on, this is yor voice too." (Errors in original.) Blaconniere also himself posted crude messages about teachers.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 15. Since the law in this area is unsettled, the court's ruling could have far-reaching effects on how free students are to create virtual soapboxes on the Internet...
The ACLU Successfully Defends a Student's Parody of a Principal
In the case of Layshock vs. Hermitage School District, the ACLU filed suit against the Hermitage School District for suspending high school senior Justin Layshock for ten days because he created a MySpace parody of his principal. In addition, the school administration ordered Layshock to finish high school in the Alternative Education Program, and forbade him from attending his own graduation.
On July 10, 2007, a federal district judge ruled that the school's suspension violated Layshock's First Amendment rights, and ordered a jury trial to determine whether Layshock is entitled to compensatory damages. The district court found that "[t]he mere fact that the Internet may be accessed at school does not authorize school officials to become censors of the World Wide Web. Public schools are vital institutions, but their reach is not unlimited."
In reaching its decision, the court looked to the Supreme Court's 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., which held that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," but crafted a test that allowed school administrators to punish student speech in some instances. Notably, the court found that the Tinker test applied even to off-campus behavior like Layshock's that targeted a school or its teachers. -..