In June 2008, one of our School Law Alerts discussed a Connecticut case in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a school district’s decision to discipline a student based on the student’s off-campus posting on the Internet. That Alert is available here.
Since that decision was issued, other courts have issued conflicting decisions in cases involving student discipline based on Internet postings. In the most recent case, a judge on the United States District Court for the Central District of California found that a student was improperly suspended for posting a YouTube video in which another student was called, among other things, “spoiled” and a “slut.” The Court found that the video did not cause a substantial disruption to the school environment, and, therefore, the discipline infringed on the Student’s First Amendment rights. In addition, the Court found that the student’s Due Process rights were violated because the school’s discipline policy did not sufficiently alert students that they could be subject to discipline for off-campus conduct. That case is J.C. v. Beverly Hills Unified School District, CV 08-03824 (C.D.Ca. 2009). On the other hand, a judge on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania found that a student was properly suspended for creating a MySpace.com profile of his principal that stated that the principal was a pedophile and a sex addict, as there was a sufficient nexus between that conduct and the school environment. That case is J.S. v. Blue Mountain School Dist., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72685 (M.D.Pa 2008). As these cases demonstrate, schools and courts are still exploring the proper role for schools in cases involving off-campus conduct on the Internet, and a court’s ruling in a particular case will depend on the court’s review of the specific facts and Internet postings in each case.