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PA Appeals Court Weighs Punishment For Students' Online Parodies 319

Posted by timothy
from the at-least-the-judges-aren't-ciavarella-or-conahan dept.
crimeandpunishment writes "Is it a student's right to free speech or a school's right to discipline? A US Appeals Court in Pennsylvania heard arguments Thursday on a case that could have far-reaching implications. The issue involves the suspension of two students, from two different Pennsylvania school districts, for web postings they made on their home computers. The students posted parody profiles on MySpace that mocked their principals. The American Civil Liberties Union argued on behalf of the students."
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PA Appeals Court Weighs Punishment For Students' Online Parodies

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  • myspace? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:19AM (#32456792)

    People still use myspace?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That's why it was obviously a parody.
  • by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:21AM (#32456820)

    She used her principal's photograph and described him as a pedophile and mentioned a sex act. The girl later apologized, took down the page and was suspended for 10 days.

    OK, it's one thing to parody, it's another to accuse someone of a crime that will ruin them for the rest of their life. I think those kids shouldn't be suspended for parodies but when they are using actual images and making false accusations along with them, that's another matter. That fake profile could have gotten that principle murdered. There are many vigilantes out there who would love to knock off a child molester. Then there's the whole social stigma and ruining his life.

    Those kids went way too far - they went beyond parody.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      IANAL, but if I remember correctly intentionally misrepresenting someone as something that is patently false is libel or slander depending on how it is done. This is a criminal offense. The school should report it to the police, charges should be filed and life goes on. Unless the actions happened on school equipment or on school time, the school districts have no business getting involved. The kids did go too far but this isn't a school mater, it is a criminal one.
      • If I was a student, I'd much rather be suspended than be prosecuted -- but I do agree that it's not really the job of the school to get involved.

      • by Troy Roberts (4682) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:33AM (#32457448)

        Sorry, you are wrong. Libel and Slander are not criminal offenses. They are civil offenses and this gives the principle a cause of action. So, he can sue.

      • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:40AM (#32457520) Homepage Journal

        IANAL, but if I remember correctly intentionally misrepresenting someone as something that is patently false is libel or slander depending on how it is done. This is a criminal offense

        No. Defamation, which slander are libel are forms of, is generally not a criminal offense in the United States; it's a tort. There is no criminal defamation at the federal level, although 17 states do have criminal defamation statutes, though they seem to be rarely enforced and are generally considered a misdemeanor.

      • by nbauman (624611) on Friday June 04, 2010 @09:30AM (#32458028) Homepage Journal

        intentionally misrepresenting someone as something that is patently false is libel or slander depending on how it is done. This is a criminal offense.

        What country are you from? First of all, libel is not a criminal offense in the U.S. (or most other democratic countries). Libel hasn't been a criminal matter since the American Revolution.

        Libel is a civil offense, and the subject of the libel is limited to suing for damages in civil court.

        Second of all, intentionally misrepresenting someone for purposes of satire and parody is specifically protected by the First Amendment and the Supreme Court. If the claims are so outrageous that no reasonable person would believe them, there's no libel. The more outrageous the claims, the weaker the case for libel.

        The leading case is Hustler Magazine, Inc. et al. v. Jerry Falwell. Falwell sued Hustler for an advertisement parody that portrayed him as having had a drunken sexual encounter with his mother in an outhouse.

        http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/speech/arts/topic.aspx?topic=parody_satire [firstamendmentcenter.org]

        As the judge said in TFA, you can make it a teachable moment. People in the U.S. have a right to satirize figures of authority. Satire can be painful, but that's the price we pay for a free society.

        • by Flea of Pain (1577213) on Friday June 04, 2010 @09:45AM (#32458254)

          Except when it comes to people in positions of authority over children there is a "guilty until proven innocent" mentality. It isn't written into law, but put yourself in the shoes of the person doing the hiring... "Do I hire someone accused of pedophilia, or not? If he isn't a pedo, great, if he is, I'll have the biggest political shit storm since the gulf oil spill."

          Accusations of abuse or sexual misconduct in the field of education can and does have a huge effect on the teachers/principals involved (they become basically blackballed and can't practice their profession if they ever get laid off because no one will ever hire them), and as such I support this principal in putting a stop to it as quickly as possible.

          • "as such I support this principal in putting a stop to it as quickly as possible."

            Agreed, and I'm shocked at the parent's reaction: "The student's mother has said punishing the girl should have been left up to her.

            Wow: your daughter is very publicly (shouting it in a classroom is publicly, posting it on myspace is very publicly) accusing school officials of being pedophiles, and you want to send her to her room without dinner? So, I guess next time she falsely accuses a boy of rape she gets no TV
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by cduffy (652)

              I'm not saying that libel or slander shouldn't be punishable when done by students, to the same extent that it's punishable when done by adults and with all of the same defenses available.

              However, that should be done through the court system, where there's an opportunity for an equitable defense, rather than through the "private court" of the school's disciplinary system.

    • by morari (1080535) on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:31AM (#32456904) Journal

      Maybe. But even then, the principal should have screamed "libel!" and let the police/courts handle that. Instead the student was suspended, despite nothing ever being done at the school itself. This is really just another case of school system trying to overstep their boundaries. It would happen every single day if people don't keep them in check.

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:41AM (#32456998) Homepage

      Did they engage in defamation? Yes. Is defamation legitimate grounds for suspension? No. If the principal believes he is slandered, he can as a private individual sue the students for slandering (although in this context, a reasonable argument could be made that he's a public figure, which makes this much harder). What he can't do is take official action against the students.

      For comparison's sake, let's say that a newspaper ran a front-page article (completely falsely) saying that a prominent politician's wife was a drunk and stating that the politician in question is bigoted against a minority group. While said politician could give a speech denouncing the paper, and could sue them for defamation, what he can't do is have the publisher of said paper arrested. (And for those old enough to remember the 1972 presidential campaign, you'll notice this isn't a hypothetical.)

      • by kevinNCSU (1531307) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:08AM (#32457218)

        Presented with the option of leaping to the courts and costing the family money to defend themselves and the option of having the kid stay home from school a couple days to learn their lesson on what's acceptable and what's not I'd say they made the right choice.

        She's not just attacking the principal as a person, she's attacking him and his ability to do his job, and disrupting the ability of other kid's in that school to learn. Telling everyone a school is run by a pedophile has far reaching implications and is generally disruptive to the learning environment. Just like a kid cussing at a teacher during class, the school seems to me well within their rights to tell her to stay home for a couple days till she's ready to act responsibly. In fact, that seems like a much lighter sentence then the legal avenue.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:38AM (#32457500)

          Relying on internal discipline in lieu of referring violations of the law to the legal systems is not the right choice when http://www.now.org/nnt/fall-99/campus.html [now.org] colleges try to hand out internal discipline to rapists in lieu of turning them over to the cops.

          Nor is it the right choice when police departments try to limit punishment for illegal beatings, shootings, etc to internal-only discipline measures instead of letting the guilty cops be taken into the court system.

        • by AdamThor (995520)

          Presented with the option of leaping to the courts and costing the family money to defend themselves and the option of having the kid stay home from school a couple days to learn their lesson on what's acceptable and what's not I'd say they made the right choice.

          The family doesn't have to flip out and hire an enormous legal team to fight the charges tooth and nail. It's fairly obvious the kid did it. Optimally, they'd plead no contest and get a few hours of community service and that would be that. Recor

      • by Lythrdskynrd (1823332) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:29AM (#32457404)

        Did they engage in defamation? Yes. Is defamation legitimate grounds for suspension? No.

        That is untrue. It is absolutely grounds for suspension. I was a high school teacher for five years and dealing with discipline amongst the students is paramount. As a teacher you've got to stand in front of 30 (ish) teenagers and teach. Many of them don't want to be there, some of them have decided that they hate you personally over some personal slight from six months ago (ie: telling them they must complete their assignment rather than playing flash games, or it seems an issue with uniform as in the article). If one student sits back and tells you to go fuck yourself and is seen to suffers no consequence then that behavior spreads. Inside or outside of school is irrelevant (though is it the case that the speech that is accessible in school is speech in school?) How often do you read stories with headlines like "Student behavior out of control", "Teachers ineffective"... the fact is that there are good parents and bad parents. Leaving discipline choices up to the good parents is fine, leaving discipline choices up to bad parents is disaster. Better just to treat all students equally. One set of rules, consequences for actions. Let them adjust themselves to society and not the inverse. At the end of the day, the punishment of suspension is about teaching them right from wrong, and a page calling your teacher a pedophile is wrong.

        • by Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:43AM (#32457552) Homepage
          Inside or outside of school is irrelevant
          Wrong. Your power as a teacher ends at the school, unless you want to be held liable for all the actions of the children you've ever taught?Because that sword cuts both ways.
        • by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:58AM (#32457692) Homepage

          So are you saying that students have no free speech rights (when applied to teachers and principals, who are public officials) whatsoever?

          It's not quite as clear-cut as you think, that's for sure. I'll put forward a few scenarios, tell me where the line is drawn:
            (a) Student goes up to Mr Smith in school and says "Go fuck yourself."
            (b) Student goes up to Mr Smith in school and says "You suck"
            (c) Student goes up to Mr Smith in school and says "You're incapable of doing your job."
            (d) Student raises his hand in class, is acknowledged, and explains to the class that Mr Smith just did some math on the blackboard that assumed that 2=1.
            (e) A student has just finished shoveling their family's driveway, and Mr Smith (who happens to live next door) blows snow onto the driveway. The student responds on the scene by saying "Screw you" to Mr Smith.
            (f) A student complains to his friends that Mr Smith is incompetent.
            (g) A student complains to his friends that Mr Smith blew snow into his driveway.
            (h) A student thinks Mr Smith has applied school rules improperly and arbitrarily, and writes an editorial in the school newspaper laying out his case.

          I can think of a few more cases, but this seems like a good starting point. Where's the line between acceptable and unacceptable speech in your view?

        • >Let them adjust themselves to society and not the inverse.

          And right until there I almost had sympathy with you DESPITE rampantly disagreeing with your entire approach.
          Progress by definition occurs ONLY when we adjust society to suit ourselves, adjusting to suit the existing status quo can ONLY perpetuate said status quo. That is pretty much never a good thing. Remember -call to tradition is a falacy.

          Now just in case you care... here's why I don't even agree with your basic post anyway. The whole PROBLEM

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by DaleSwanson (910098)
          I'll agree the power to punish kids for stuff they do outside of school would make your job easier. However, as Bush famously said: "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

          Just because having a power would make your job easier doesn't mean you should have it.
      • If the principal believes he is slandered, he can as a private individual sue the students for slandering ...

        Technically, it's "libel" (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words).
        "Slander" is spoken (for transitory statements).

    • The girl who called her principal a pedo was 14 years old. That puts her in high school.

      A pedo principal will not seek employment at a high school. He'll go to an elementary school or younger.

      Unless, of course, the girl doesn't understand (just like the mainstream media frequently misunderstands) the definition of the word "pedophile".

      What we have here is a teachable moment. The kid deserves an "F" on this vocabulary test. Somebody make her write on the chalkboard 1000 times: "Dictionaries are good. U

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        A pedo principal will not seek employment at a high school. He'll go to an elementary school or younger.

        In our society, someone who is sexually attracted to a girl one day from her eighteenth birthday is legally a pedophile, and if he acts on that attraction even with her full consent and is caught doing so he will be punished accordingly.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Shotgun (30919)

          No. He will be punished far beyond what is reasonable. He'll be put on a sex offender website and hounded for the rest of his life, even though he is only two weeks older than she is.

          If a female teacher is caught with a 17.999 year old boy, they'll probably both make a career out of appearances on daytime talk shows.

          Damn, I love this country.

        • by xero314 (722674)

          In our society, someone who is sexually attracted to a girl one day from her eighteenth birthday is legally a pedophile

          Where is this legal definition of a pedophile? I gather you are going to have a really hard time finding any proof to back up your statement. No Laws, in the United States at least, define what a pedophile is. There are also no laws in the US that regulate thought, and sexual attraction is merely a thought.

          and if he acts on that attraction even with her full consent and is caught doing so he will be punished accordingly.

          This is also incorrect if you are referring to the US (where this story takes place). First of all you can not be charged with a crime for sexual contact (excluding sodomy) between two fully consenting

    • by Bourdain (683477) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:02AM (#32457158)

      Those kids went way too far - they went beyond parody.

      I completely agree with that is clearly beyond parody, but the real question is "Can schools punish students for web posts?" not "Can people be punished for [inflammatory] libel?".

      In a sense, these kids got off easy. They could have had real legal consequences as opposed to a school suspension.

      • by AdamThor (995520)

        In a sense, these kids got off easy. They could have had real legal consequences as opposed to a school suspension.

        I disagree. Real legal consequences need not be overly onerous. Legal consequences could very appropriately been a few hours of community service and a record expunged at 18. I don't know how if there is a minimum sentence, but certainly the law is capable of having a light hand?

    • by silentcoder (1241496) on Friday June 04, 2010 @09:01AM (#32457722) Homepage

      Actually - it wasn't libel.
      The Jerry Fallwell case against Hustler failed on EXACTLY these grounds. Fundamental to the law is that "if there is no reasonable chance that anybody would take the claims seriously - the jury is REQUIRED to find the publisher INNOCENT."

      It is ONLY possible to be guilty of libel if the people familiar with the target would reasonably BELIEVE the claims. Since the school board themselves have testified that "nobody took the claims seriously" - it is therefore absolutely NOT libel.

      I don't LIKE the nature of this parody, but it IS in fact protected parody under U.S. law and the student acted entirely within her first amendment rights.

      • by AndersOSU (873247) on Friday June 04, 2010 @09:24AM (#32457956)

        Hmmm. There are a lot of differences between this case and the Jerry Fallwell case. First, Jerry Fallwell was undeniably a public figure, which makes defamation much more difficult. A high school principle may be a public figure, but I don't think that it is clear cut. Second, the Hustler article claimed that Fallwell's had an ongoing sexual experience was with his mother that started in an outhouse in a magizine known for being outrageous. That's a lot less plausible than a student accusing a high school principle being a pedophile in an open forum that is occasionally ridiculous, but occasionally serious. IMO, on first read, this probably was libelous speech. The open question is whether the school can deal with this situation administratively (which is less harsh, but also less subject to review) or whether they're compelled to bring a suit in such a situation.

        • Those differences are not essentially relevant. The law says it's not libel if a reasonable person wouldn't believe the claims. It's clear from the testimony that nobody is saying a reasonable person WOULD.
          It's clear that the school had no fear that the principle may face genuine believe of the claims - and instead were concerned about the claims ridiculing him and breaking down his authority.

          Whatever ELSE this may be - it's definitely parody. How funny was it ? How ridiculous the choice of wording ? Those

  • "Teachers might say this is a teachable moment," McKee said.

    And the lesson is hide and deny. Honestly, how long will it take kids to convert to anonymous attacks or posting under some other person's name?

    • Not long at all, and I would say that these kids stand out for not being anonymous. When I was in high school, kids would routinely print their opinions on pieces of paper and tape the paper up on the school walls; this was just before the rise of MySpace. It was rare that anyone could figure out who was actually posting the papers, since everyone was smart enough to avoid teachers and security guards.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Is that what we want to teach our kids? I'd rather teach them bravery and honesty than cowardice and deceit. But I guess in a society that woships money and values it above all else, maybe I should have taught my kids to be dishonest cowards like our so-called "leaders" (political, religious, and business) are.

      • It is not cowardly to be anonymous, despite what /. might tell you.
        • by AndersOSU (873247)

          It's not necessarily cowardly to be anonymous. It's definitely cowardly to anonymously spread scurrilous rumors designed to impugn someone's character.

      • by amplt1337 (707922)

        I think at the point they were brazenly calling their principals pedophiles, they've kind of lost the race for the "bravery and honesty" part of things...

  • by joel.neely (165789) on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:22AM (#32456834)

    ...between humor and malicious behavior. We don't excuse a schoolyard bully if he claims, "I was just having fun." Neither should we ignore malicious false statements merely because someone claims, "I was just doing a parody."

    Accusations against teachers and principles of sexual misconduct against their students are typically taken very seriously (with good reason). So how is a student who makes such statements, apparently in retaliation for being disciplined at school, that different from a student who retaliates by pulling a fire alarm?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      I don't know, I've heard some really sick jokes that were incredibly funny. Not having seen the actual parody you really can't judge whether it was funny or not.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AndersOSU (873247)

        The test for parody isn't "is it funny." The test for parody is, would a reasonable person believe the charges to be true.

        I've seen a lot of really drab, outrageous and unfunny parody. I've also read some pretty hilarious libelous stuff (e.g. take any "dumb criminal" story and remove all instances of "allegedly.")

  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by characterZer0 (138196) on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:24AM (#32456844)

    If something happens on school grounds or using school equipment, the school can discipline.

    If something happens off school grounds and not using school equipment that is damaging or may be illegal, involve the criminal justice system or sue.

    Why is this so hard?

    side note: Homeschooling parents are looking pretty smart, aren't they?

    • Re:Simple (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mwvdlee (775178) on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:34AM (#32456930) Homepage

      side note: Homeschooling parents are looking pretty smart, aren't they?

      A porn actress in a labcoat looks pretty smart too.

    • by corbettw (214229)

      You're missing a critical point: other students at those schools may have (in fact almost certainly) viewed those "parodies". The result of which would be a lessening of respect for the teachers and principals involved, making it harder for them to apply any kind of discipline in school. So yes, the school district needs to discipline these kids, if only to remind the other kids that this behavior is not OK.

      If you posted a "parody" like this of your boss, on your own time and using your own resources, you'd

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by moeinvt (851793)

        "If you posted a "parody" like this of your boss, on your own time and using your own resources, you'd still be fired. And with cause. It's no different just because these kids are in school."

        For a private school the employer/employee analogy works. It's completely different when the institution is a public school. AFAIK, students are required to attend school, and for most, government school is the only viable option. That doesn't grant the school blanket authority over the students' lives however. If

        • How does it work for the private school situation? At work, you work for your boss and your boss pays you. At a private school, the teachers and administration work for the parents (by teaching the students) and the parents pay them.

        • by corbettw (214229)

          That doesn't grant the school blanket authority over the students' lives however.

          The Supreme Court disagrees with you. [wikipedia.org]

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Be careful citing that case.
            It ends up hinging on the student essentially promoting illegal drug use AND managing to be classified as if he were on school grounds due to it being a school event.

            It could be used in a case like this but it is definitely not cut and dried.

          • by nbauman (624611)

            That doesn't grant the school blanket authority over the students' lives however.

            The Supreme Court disagrees with you. [wikipedia.org]

            "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS".

            That's right. The Roberts Supreme Court canceled the First Amendment.

      • The result of which would be a lessening of respect for the teachers and principals. . .

        Are you suggesting that any respected authority should punish any deed that led to decrease in respect? If not, why for the case of teachers?

        If you posted a "parody" like this of your boss, on your own time and using your own resources, you'd still be fired. And with cause. It's no different just because these kids are in school.

        There is a significant difference between the school situation and the work situation. At wor

        • by corbettw (214229)

          Are you suggesting that any respected authority should punish any deed that led to decrease in respect? If not, why for the case of teachers?

          "Any" is a broad brush and a strawman. I'm choosing to ignore it.

          There is a significant difference between the school situation and the work situation. At work, you work for your boss. At school, the teachers and administration work for the students.

          Teachers need to be able to maintain order or else students can't learn. If the students have no respect for the teachers' authority, they can't maintain order. Therefore, anything a student does that causes other students to lose respect for their teachers must be punished. The alternative is to have a situation where classes are completely out of control and the students who want to learn, can't.

    • by malkavian (9512)

      Because if you leap to the legal system, you miss out the essential middle ground.
      Claiming that the principal was a paedophile was probably something you could send to court. However, the choice was made to be sane, tell the student off, and suspend them.

      To teach, you need to maintain discipline. The ability to publish works in a public forum (yes, many searches may be able to see this profile, as will people in the school) deriding, and undermining the authority of the teachers is NOT conducive to being

      • If you follow the 'free speech' mantra, students should be able to shout abuse at a teacher all lesson long

        I never mentioned free speech. I clearly stated that if it happens at school, the school should be able to discipline.

      • If you follow the 'free speech' mantra, students should be able to shout abuse at a teacher all lesson long, and deny anyone the ability to learn.

        Nope, that's in school, where teachers have authority.

        Ridiculing teachers on the 'net in plain view is nothing short of bullying; this is why society developed etiquette...

        In school, that'd be legitimate grounds for whatever it is they wanted to do.

        Outside school, in the real world, it may not even be illegal. And if it is, the principal could bring his own libel/slander suit and resolve it that way.

        • by AndersOSU (873247)

          I think there's a pretty fair chance that this post was viewed at the school. Does that change anything? I don't have a good answer for this, and honestly, I think this is what this case is going to turn on.

          If you print out fliers at home calling the principle a pedophile and hand them out in the hallway, can the school punish you?

          What if you rent a billboard across the street from the school?

          What if write a letter to the editor of a publication that gets delivered to the school?

          I think it's pretty clear

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Unfortunately, thanks to the Roberts Court [wikipedia.org], that doctrine has now changed, and student speech off of school grounds can result in a suspension.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AndersOSU (873247)

        Only if the district can make the case that posting at home is at a "school sponsored event," which I don't think they can.

        What I think they'll try to do is demonstrate that the speech entered the school, and thus gave them authority to act. I'm not sure what the right decision is, but I suspect that the Robert's court will find for the school district (if it goes that far.)

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Suing would be more effective, and scare the shit out of the parents even if the lawsuit fails.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)

      So my brother stands up in your classroom and hollers that you're a pedophile, and you can discipline him, but if I yell it in through the open window, you can't discipline me?

      Well, I certainly admire your staunch defence of my rights there, Principle Gropesalot.

      • If you make that accusation, the principal can sue you for slander.

        We are talking about constitutionally protected parody, not defamation.

        • We are talking about constitutionally protected parody, not defamation.

          Except nothing that these kids were doing constitutes a form of constitutionally-protected parody. Maybe you should actually educate yourself on the case law in this field?

          • Fine. Then sue them for defamation. We have a legal system for that. Do not let the school administrators be judge and jury for something that happened outside of school.

        • by Rogerborg (306625)

          If you make that accusation, the principal can sue you for slander.

          Yes, whether you are inside or outside the classroom when you yell it. So why doesn't the same apply to disciplining?

          We are talking about constitutionally protected parody, not defamation.

          That's one of the things that we're talking about, and the least interesting one because it's got nothing at all to do with the school.

          There's also the entirely separate issue of whether the school can discipline or exclude students for their actions, if

          • If I am in your house and slander you, you can kick me out of your house. If I stand in the street and say the same thing, you cannot do anything except press charges and let the criminal justice system handle it.

    • by lwriemen (763666)

      > side note: Homeschooling parents are looking pretty smart, aren't they?

      This statement is nonsense. Is the implication that this would be a lessor news event if the students were posting these things about their parent(s)? That the principal is actually a pedophile and zero home-school parents are? That zero home-schooled kids would do such a thing?

      I would say that there is no certainty in any of these cases.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by characterZer0 (138196)

        Homeschooling parents to not have to deal with an outside authority figure overstepping his bounds. The parents have a right to discipline their own children, regardless of the time and place of the transgression.

  • Tinker (Score:3, Informative)

    by cappp (1822388) on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:27AM (#32456874)
    The ACLU page gives more details about the cases including:

    In one case, student Justin Layshock used his grandmother's computer to post a mock profile of his principal on MySpace, using the principal's name and picture to pretend it was the principal. The profile said things like the principal was "too drunk to remember" his birthday and has been drunk many times; was a "big steroid freak" and belonged to "Steroids International," in the past month smoked a "big blunt" (I'm guessing most of you don't need me to explain what blunt means in a footnote, like the court did!), and took "pills"; does not have a "big dick," is a "big fag" and is "transgender."

    Justin's principal was displeased (go figure!) so he suspended him for 10 days, kicked him out of all interscholastic activities, removed him from AP classes and stuck him in a class with low-performing students. The ACLU sued and got Justin back into classes pretty quickly.

    and:

    In the other case, student J.S. used her parents' computer to post a mock profile of her principal on MySpace, not using his name but including his picture and suggesting he was a principal in Alabama. The profile said things like the principal was a "tight ass," "wonderful, hairy expressionless, sex addict, fagass put on this world with a small dick"; spent time with his child who "looks like a gorilla"; likes "fucking in [his] office" and "hitting on students and their parents"; and loves "sex of any kind," being a "dick head," and his "darling wife who looks like a man." J.S.'s principal wasn't pleased either, so he suspended J.S. for 10 days.

    Oh, one more difference: the judges. Six different judges on the two cases. Justin won his case 3-0. J.S. lost her case 2-1. So four appeals court judges thought that the schools violated the students' rights. Two judges, one of whom was district court judge specially assigned to hear the case, thought otherwise.

    It’s a tough one. The courts have found repeatedly that children don’t enjoy complete constitutional rights, especially within the context of schooling. However they do have some degree of first amendment right – as long as that doesn’t prove to be a disruption. The court is supposed to apply the Tinker Test (derived from Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District which can be found http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinker_v._Des_Moines_Independent_Community_School_District [wikipedia.org]) – which comes down to an assessment of whether behaviour “"materially and substantially interferes with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school.” There are subsequent cases that further refined the Tinker standard, which can be read about at the wiki page, but they all repeated the general rule that students do not enjoy unabridged free speech.

    So the question for us really is whether the creation of those fake profiles could be counted as disruptive to discipline in the operation of the school. There are, of course, compelling points on both sides. The question of defamation and the extreme damage accusations of paedophilia causes are also relevant.

    • by AndersOSU (873247)

      removed him from AP classes and stuck him in a class with low-performing students.

      This is pretty outrageous. Lets say that the court finds that the school district was fully within their rights to discipline the student ... they still shouldn't be allowed to do that.

      As far as the Tinker test ... I think it would pretty easy to argue that this speech either did, or could cause a disruption. The question the court will need to answer is where the speech took place. Was it wholly outside of school, or does

  • by somersault (912633) on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:29AM (#32456892) Homepage Journal

    A 14-year-old Blue Mountain student who had been cited for a dress-code violation created a fake profile of a principal purportedly from Alabama. She used her principal's photograph and described him as a pedophile and mentioned a sex act. The girl later apologized, took down the page and was suspended for 10 days.

    That is pretty disgusting for anyone to do to any other human being, especially to anyone that makes a living from working with kids - but I don't think the school should be doling out any punishment. This should be a matter purely for the courts.

    • by schon (31600) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:01AM (#32457148)

      Ask yourself something - assuming the student is guilty of the act - what's better for the student and their family:

      1. Being suspended for a few days and learning that actions have consequences.

      2. Being taken to court, possibly having criminal charges pressed against you, bankrupting your family due to legal expenses and the judgement against you, and learning that actions have consequences.

      Sounds like the school did what was best for the student, and is now being punished for it.

      • by molog (110171)

        Libel and slander are not criminal offenses. They are civil offenses. Your argument about what would be best for the family doesn't matter. The school should have no rights or authority over a student when not at school or a school event. This is a question of jurisdiction. I'm sure people would like to be tried for misdemeanor offenses by a US court when they do something stupid in Mexico, but it doesn't matter since they were not in the US and thus Mexico has jurisdiction. Here the act was committed

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by abigsmurf (919188)
          Libel and Slander are civil. Criminal impersonation is a felony.

          If the victim was a US citizen and the servers involved were on US soil, it would be quite easy for a court to claim jurisdiction on it.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Ask yourself something - assuming the student is guilty of the act - what's better for the student and their family:

        Why don't we ask ourselves what's better for society? The courts are (ostensibly) beholden to the district, and the school administration is (again, ostensibly) beholden to the community. Is it best for society to run this girl and her parents through the court, or to make it clear that they could do so, and just scare her out of doing anything like that again, which is cheaper for everyone and creates good will rather than ill?

        Sounds like the school did what was best for the student, and is now being punished for it.

        Sounds to me like the school did what was best for everyone. You can't have stud

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cptdondo (59460)

      Kids are kids. They will do stupid things; it's the nature of being a teenager. You push limits to see what they are.

      OK, this kid did something stupid. Should the full force of the law be brought down on them? Heck no!

      The kid took down the page, apologized, and it should end there. The kid learned something. Life goes on.

      The school has no right to reach out and punish a kid for doing something on their own time. They can refer it to the cops, or they could actually use this to teach acceptable limits

      • There's "pushing the limits" and there's being a complete asshole. By 14 you're pretty well aware of right and wrong - implying that a teacher is a paedophile without cause is very, very wrong.

        People have ended up having their lives ruined because of this kind of accusation. I didn't see the profile myself, and it was probably obvious in this case that it was just a joke, but I don't know.

        I seriously doubt the apology was heartfelt, but it's good that she took the site down and yes the school definitely sho

  • There is a general rule of law in the United States based on the concept of a "reasonable adult". Each of the first ten amendments of the American Constitution (and their analogues elsewhere) comes with the unwritten assumption that a reasonable adult will use these freedoms for the betterment of the community. The right to bear arms does not grant me the right to murder my neighbor because I don't like the car he drives. The right to peacefully assemble and protest the actions of government does not gra
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:47AM (#32457044) Homepage

    The clear intent of both students was to harass the teachers and cause disruption by undermining their authority. The publication was targeted at an audience (their peers), and the effect was felt inside the school.

    At this point, I could be describing: posting on the intartubes; putting up posters near the school with the same content; waving a placard outside the school gates; standing outside the window and yelling.

    In each case, the action was done outside the school, but the effects were felt inside it, and that is the salient point.

    Schools must be able to respond to actions that effect them by disciplining or excluding the student. That's independent of any civil or criminal actions brought against the students by the libelled individuals, and the police and prosecution services.

    Can we seriously countenance that a school can discipline or exclude a student for standing up in a classroom and yelling that Principal Peterson is a kiddie fiddler, but that it can't take action if the student moves three feet and yells the accusation in through the open window?

    If so, then schools might as well hand out copies of Lord of the Flies as their conduct rules.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by slimjim8094 (941042)

      First of all, I know of no schools who don't own the property at least 3 feet away from the building. But to address your point, yes there's a tremendous difference. The kid in a classroom is a student at the school among his classmates - the kid on the sidewalk is just some kid.

      Yes, there are some asshole kids who need a smackdown. This girl is pretty clearly one of them. And in this case, suspension is the wrong move mostly because she should've been sued for libel

      But it's like Mr. Bong Hits 4 Jesus guy.

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:51AM (#32457064) Homepage

    Calling someone a criminal (pedophile who actively preys on children in this case) without any proof and with what appears to be great malice of forethought is not a parody. None of the definitions of parody [reference.com] fit the bill for what she did. It is libel. Pure, unadulterated, libel. The girl and her family should have been sued into the ground by the principle instead of her getting suspended.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Hognoxious (631665)

      with what appears to be great malice of forethought

      To all intensive porpoises, I agree.

  • Is it a student's right to free speech or a school's right to discipline?

    Well, first lets break it into two continuums*. The Students right to free speech and the Schools right to discipline. On the Students their main focus is to learn. On the School their main focus is to teach. Branching between these two continuui is a complex network of social interaction and possible ways the structure of transferring knowledge from one party to the other could proceed. Precedence is on success so it is favo
  • But also let those who are parodied beat the crap out of them, if they can. There was a time where people learned restraint out of fear getting into a fight. Since we've taken that away people have lost any form of restraint, hiding behind their computer. Allowing a little bit of fisticuffs would go a long way in adding responsibility for ones actions.
  • by Dunbal (464142) *

    Outlawing mockery makes a mockery of the law...

    The courts should be no place for rude people to be educated, or for those who hold grudges to get satisfaction.

  • What is the "right" to discipline? We give schools the PRIVILEGE to discipline. That PRIVILEGE does not outweigh a person's RIGHT to free speech. How about the Right to due process? Seems the schools have no problem violating that, either.

    If the individual members of the school board had a problem with something a student did outside of the school's jurisdiction (whether this particular case or any other you care to name), they should have handled it through the police or the courts just like any other

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by e3m4n (947977)

      what makes you think someone under the age of 18 has any rights what so ever? The second amendment is just as high on the food chain as the first amendment yet that right is not bestowed upon you till your 18th birthday. As far as I can tell, the constitution is written so that all men and women are granted certain inalienable rights. Nothing is said about those who are not emancipated by 'age of majority' statute. Technically minors are 2nd class citizens who are not even protected by due process. I gave o

  • The students need to learn how to do this stuff in a way they can not get caught!

    Use anonymous e-mail address to register the account, walk down the street with a laptop and find an open wifi router to use so that it can not be traced back to your house, send anonymous e-mails and texts to let everyone know it is there.

    If you do it right the school can not trace it back to a given student. As my kids ;)

  • Back in the bad old days high schools used to set a distance from the school grounds where a student could smoke a cigarette. That included while driving in one's car to the school's parking lot. The excuse was that the sight of a young person smoking gave a delinquent image to the school.
    That was unfair then and still is. Schools should not be allowed to reach out and control the community under the banner of making it easier to control students. As

  • Take the anti-school anti-government arguments to their logical conclusion: A student shoots another student across the street from the school. That's attempted murder, it's a criminal matter. But, the school has NO jurisdiction, right? We don't want it turning into fascism where the principal of a highschool is the absolute ruler of the country, right? So, then, they have NO right to suspend this student? While he's out on bail, he HAS TO BE ALLOWED TO ATTEND?

    At any rate, accusing the principal of

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