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Student's Free Speech Rights and the Internet

Children vs. the Administrator



Many districts are having huge judgments won by the students for violation of their constitutional rights which is governed by case law.  Physical threats are illegal and schools can and do call law enforcement.

A 1969 Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines School District said "material and substantial disruption" is what schools or districts have to prove happened when they're arguing in court that the discipline of a student justifiably overrode the student's free-speech right. "school administrators must prove thay can discipline a student if there is or think there will be an impact at the school that is undermines and hurts the other students who have the right to be or feel safe in the school or stops them from getting their education. [quote above]

"Some courts have said that speech which is done on school computers is clearly within the domain of the administration to set reasonable standards for. Some have said if it's off-site, then the students are fully protected. Some have said if it can be read by people on the school premises, then it comes within the jurisdiction of the school board," says Tom Clarke, a San Francisco attorney who works on First Amendment questions. "Those are the three crazy standards that currently exist." School and First Amendment experts are unsure how many school districts have implemented such policies. But the confusion over how far school boards can go has left many students caught off guard when they are punished, reports Alan Gomez.

National Schools Boards Association's Leadership Insider PDF: Practical Perspectives on School Law & Policy" devoted to cyberbullying, harassment, defamation, and more.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's FAQ on students' free-speech rights, with thorough case history. HOW TO HANDLE THE CYBERBULLY


SEATTLE- Karl Beidler will receive $10,000 in damages from North Thurston School District for actions it took that violated his free speech rights.
A former high school student who was suspended for creating a parody on the Internet is getting damages from the school district that wrongfully punished him, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.
"This case sends a message to public school administrators that they do not have the authority to punish students for expressing their opinions outside of school and without the use of any school resources," said ACLU staff attorney Aaron Caplan. "The First Amendment protects a student from being kicked out of school just because officials don't like what the student is saying." The award of damages follows a July, 2000 ruling by a Thurston County Superior Court judge that public school officials cannot punish a student for speech outside of school. Beidler was suspended for a month in 1999 from Timberline High School in Lacey for posting an Internet parody lampooning the school's assistant principal. Then a junior, the student created the satire on his own computer at home on his own time. After the ACLU got involved in the case, he was allowed to enroll in an alternative school in the District. Last year he returned to Timberline and graduated with his class. In its ruling, the court made clear that free speech rights apply to speech on the Internet. "Today the First Amendment protects students' speech to the same extent as in 1979 or 1969, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Tinker v. Des Moines," Judge Thomas McPhee said. In that case, the high court issued a landmark ruling that, "Students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." The Beidler decision was the most recent in a series of ACLU victories for student free speech rights in cyberspace. Earlier last year, Chief Judge John Coughenour of the U.S. District Court in Seattle issued an order preventing Kentlake High School from suspending student Nick Emmett because of a Web site parody he had created on his home computer. In final settlement of the case, Kent School District agreed not to pursue disciplinary action against the student and paid $6,000 in attorney's fees. In addition to the damage award in today's case, the school district has agreed to pay $52,000 in attorney fees. ACLU cooperating attorney Bob Hedrick provided legal representation to the student and his parents.


Digital Discipline: Off-campus Student Conduct, the First Amendment and Web Sites March 2001
This article analyzes key precedents involving student off-campus misconduct and the expression of First Amendment rights. As technology blurs the line between home and school, what happens when students cross that line? In other words, can administrators punish students for what they say outside of school when that speech is about-and possibly accessible from-school? Most courts have said no. Although only five courts have ruled on the issue, four of the five rulings have favored the student. (See Cyberlaw) Yet despite court rulings that say administrators do not have the right to discipline students for independent Web sites, many continue to do just that. In most cases when students are disciplined for off-campus Web sites, it is because the sites criticize or ridicule school administrators or the school itself. A federal judge recently awarded a Pennsylvania high school student $20,000 in damages plus $43,000 in attorney's fees and costs after ruling that school administrators violated his First Amendment rights when they suspended him for an e-mail he wrote off campus (Killion v. Franklin Regional Sch. Dist., 2001 WL 321581 (W.D. Pa., 2001).





Child on Child Nasty CyberBully Behavior on the Internet
Children vs. Children the CyberBully Behavior
"In every single case where the courts have address the free speech protections of off-campus student speech ­ underground newspapers and online ­ the courts have consistently held that school officials have the authority to impose discipline if such off-campus speech causes, or a reasonable person would anticipate that it will cause, substantial disruption at school or interference with the rights of students to be secure.
In cases where this legal standard has been applied have included situations where the speech has or could cause significant disruption in school operations or instruction, created a hostile environment for any student(s), or violent altercations. This standard essentially balances the free speech rights of students, which do deserve protection, against the school¹s important obligation of ensuring student safety and well-being".
~ Nancy Willard

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