Yesterday, the full court for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued two simultaneous opinions to resolve how much control grade schools and high schools may exercise over their students' off-campus, online speech. In Layshock v. Hermitage School District and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, the 14-judge court delivered two landmark victories for free speech, holding that school officials cannot "reach into a child's home and control his/her actions there to the same extent that it can control that child when he/she participates in school sponsored activities." In the cases, two students had been disciplined for creating parody MySpace profiles mocking their respective principals. The Third Circuit held that schools cannot punish students' online speech simply because it is vulgar, lewd, or offensive. In addition to their impact in the grade school and high school settings, these decisions further solidify the robust free speech rights that must be afforded to college students engaging in online speech...I have a long history on this blog of maintaining that what students do in their off-campus time is the purview and responsibility of their parents, not of the school.
Both Layshock and J.S. also held that off-campus speech is not transformed into school speech, subject to the Fraser standard, simply because some students access it on school computers, or because the principal requested that a hard copy of the website be brought into the school...
Importantly, in both cases, the Third Circuit concluded that the speech at issue "could not reasonably have led school officials to forecast substantial disruption in school."
Monday, June 27, 2011
Student Free Speech
Unless the student's speech (or actions, for that matter) have a significant impact on what happens at school, the school should have no authority to punish students for such speech. Sadly, that isn't the law of the land yet, but it is the law in the Third Circuit: