The U.S. Supreme Court missed an opportunity to clarify what school districts can do to monitor harmful and potentially disruptive off-campus Internet speech when it declined this week to hear a pair of Pennsylvania cases involving students posting fake Internet profiles, said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr.
In one of the cases, J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, a middle school girl who was upset about being reprimanded for dress code violations posted a fake MySpace profile of her principal That profile, according to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, “contained crude content and vulgar language, ranging from nonsense and juvenile humor to profanity and shameful personal attacks aimed at the principal and his family.” Nonetheless, the court, in an 8-6 decision, ruled that the school district had violated the girl’s First Amendment right to free speech when it suspended her for 10 days.
The Supreme Court also declined to hear an appeal of another Pennsylvania case, Layshock v. Hermitage School District, concerning a high school senior who was suspended after created a fake webpage mocking his principal. That suspension was overturned by a district judge in a ruling that was confirmed by a three-judge panel and the entire Third Circuit Court.
NSBA and several other national education organizations appealed the rulings to the Supreme Court in the hope that it would provide more definitive guidance to school districts at a time when technology has blurred the line between campus and off-campus speech.
“We’ve missed an opportunity to really clarify for school districts what their responsibility and authority is at a time when kids are using electronic medial instantaneously, and especially when those messages are so impactful and immediate on the school setting,” Negrón told the Associated Press. “This is one of those cases where the law is simply lagging behind the times.”
Negrón was also quoted on the websites of CNN, ABC News, and other media outlets.