Friday, February 05, 2010

Dueling Rulings

This from ABC News:

Rulings Cloud Issue of School MySpace Suspensions
Federal appellate judges wrestling with whether schools can discipline students for Internet speech posted offsite reached different rulings Thursday in two Pennsylvania cases.

One 3rd U.S. Circuit Court panel upheld the suspension of a Schuylkill County eighth-grader who posted sexually explicit material along with her principal's photograph on a fake MySpace page.

However, a different three-judge panel said that school officials in Mercer County cannot reach into a family's home and police the Internet. That case also involves a MySpace parody of a principal created by a student at home.

And, in dissent, a judge in the first case said his colleagues were broadening the school's authority and improperly censoring students.

"I believe that this holding vests school officials with dangerously overbroad censorship discretion," Judge Michael Chagares wrote in the case, which upheld the March 2007 suspension of a Blue Mountain Middle School student.

"Neither the Supreme Court nor this Court has ever allowed schools to punish students for off-campus speech that is not school sponsored and that caused no substantial disruption at school," Chagares wrote.

School boards, free-speech advocates and others had been awaiting the rulings for
clarity on how far schools can go to control both online speech and offsite behavior.

"The law was unclear and now it's in a state of chaos," said lawyer Witold Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued the Mercer County case.

Similar free-speech cases have surfaced across the country, with different rulings, but none have reached the Supreme Court....

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