Yesterday we wrote about the student who was suspended for a Facebook page she created criticizing her teacher. Today: we look at two Myspace student cases facing the court.
In Layshock v. Hermitage School District, high school senior Justin Layshock created a fake Myspace profile of Hickory High School principal Eric Trosch. The profile said that Trosch was a “big steroid freak,” a “big hard-ass” and a “big whore” who smoked a “big blunt.” As punishment, “[the student] was suspended, put into an alternative education program and restricted from extracurricular activities.”
After a federal district court in Pittsburgh ruled that Layschock’s off-campus expression didn’t disrupt school activities, and therefore by punishing him Hermitage School District had violated his First Amendment rights.
The school district appealed, and the case is now in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Also being reviewed is a case that went in the other direction: in J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, an eighth-grade student created a fake Myspace profile “that depicted her principal as a pedophile and a sex addict.” The student was suspended for 10 days and the district court ruled upheld the decision. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge James M. Munley wrote, “A school can validly restrict speech that is vulgar and lewd and also it can restrict speech that promotes unlawful behavior.”
In defending the student, ACLU attorneys argued that “the suspension was unconstitutional because the speech took place outside of school and because it violated the parental rights of the student’s parents to determine how best to raise, nurture, discipline and educate their child.”
So, both cases are now in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. These two cases of off-campus speech in this new realm of social networks and the (relatively new) realm of internet access will be interesting to watch.
Two central cases used to build the legal groundwork for student expression are: Tinker v. Des Moines (which the Layshock v. Hermitage School District decision followed) and Bethel School District v. Fraser (which the J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District decision followed).