Supreme Court Refuses to Censor Students’ Online Attacks

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of free speech for young people on the internet, ruling that schools can’t discipline for acts on social media sites.

The U.S Supreme Court has declined to take up cases involving online attacks by students on school officials and their peers, passing on a set of cases where schools wanted to censor students who made their attacks off-campus.

However, lawyers on both sides were disappointed. Instead of any resolute decision being made, next year the high court will again be asked to wade into the issue, writes the Associated Press.

Francisco Negron, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, said:

“We’ve missed an opportunity to really clarify for school districts what their responsibility and authority is.

“This is one of those cases where the law is simply lagging behind the times.”

Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, believes that the Supreme Court should examine the question “sooner rather than later.”

“When kids go to school, the parents give up control. But once the kids leave the school, the parents again are the primary custodians, and have decision-making authority over those kids.”

The 1969 Supreme Court precedent holds that student expression may not be suppressed unless school officials reasonably conclude that it would “materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school,” writes David Kravets at Wired.

One of the cases discussed began in 2005, whereby a student created a parody that said his principal smoked marijuana and kept beer behind his desk. The student was suspended by the school, but the suspension was overturned by a district judge and upheld by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

In another Pennsylvania case, an eighth-grader in the Blue Mountain School District used her principal’s photograph to create a fake profile on MySpace, describing him as a pedophile and mentioning a sex act. The girl was suspended for 10 days but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says that she can pursue damages and legal costs. 3rd Circuit majority wrote:

“Though disturbing, the record indicates that the profile was so outrageous that no one took its content seriously.”

In both cases, the circuit based their decision on the 1969 Supreme Court precedent.

Disparities like this are common across the nation, as school districts try out various ways of dealing with how the modern day problems of addressing online pranks, threats or cyberbullying.

Kevin McCoy, president of the West Virginia Family Foundation, believes that the high court’s ruling is a setback but not a blockade to those who oppose the policy.

“Does this make it a little more difficult for us? A little,” McCoy said.

“But it definitely does not close the door to any future challenge.”

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