In November 2007 Katherine Evans, a senior at Pembroke Pines Charter High created a Facebook group criticizing her teacher. Three other students weighed in to comment: all supporting the teacher. Two days later Evans took down the page.
Two months later, the school principal Peter Bayer told Evans that she would be suspended for three days for “bullying and cyberbullying harassment toward a staff member” according to the lawsuit. She was also removed from her advanced placement classes.
The lawsuit filed Monday on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union asks for no monetary retribution. Rather, it demands that her suspension be removed from the record because it “stained [Evans’s] academic record and violated her First Amendment rights” and can negatively impact her future academic and professional career. As her attorney says, “She was suspended for cyberbullying, and that certainly sounds pretty bad … This is something that could obviously become an issue for her.”
Evan’s Facebook comments – which contained no profanity and no threats – was off-campus, and caused no disruption at school. According to Maria Kayanan, associate associate legal director of the ACLU of Florida, “Students cannot be punished for posting comments online from their home computers criticizing their teachers. Absent a credible threat of harm, criticism is protected by the First Amendment.”
Evans’ suspension is illegitimate, but particularly disturbing is the school’s decision to remove Evans from AP classes. Beyond “forc[ing] her into the lesser-weighted honors classes, which resulted in diminishing her academic reputation and good standing,” the principal’s decision treats advanced classes as a privilege to be taken away for bad behavior.