In a January 12, 2010 post, we summarized the conflicting decisions coming from courts in cases involving student discipline based on off-campus Internet postings. That post is available here. On February 4, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, issued two new rulings on this topic. Both opinions relied on Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 507 (1969), in which the United States Supreme Court set forth principles the govern discipline for off-campus conduct. Under the particular facts of each case, however, the Third Circuit reached different conclusions on the question of whether the student was appropriately disciplined for off-campus postings on the Internet.
The Court’s first opinion addressed an appeal from J.S. v. Blue Mountain School Dist., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72685 (M.D.Pa 2008), a case cited in our January 12, 2010 post. In its opinion in that case, the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding 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. The Third Circuit’s opinion is available here.
In the second opinion issued by the Third Circuit on that same day, however, a different panel of judges concluded that another student was inappropriately disciplined for his off-campus posting of a MySpace.com profile of his principal. In that case, Layshick v. Hermitage School District, No. 07-4465 (3d Cir. Feb 4, 2010), the parody posting contained a picture of the Principal that had been copied from the school’s own website, and suggested that the Principal was, among other things, a user of both steroids and marijuana. The Third Circuit agreed with the district court that there was no nexus between the student’s off-campus posting and the school, and, therefore, discipline was not appropriate under Tinker. The Third Circuit also rejected the school’s argument that discipline also was appropriate under the line of cases that allow schools to discipline students for lewd, vulgar and offensive speech. In so doing, the Third Circuit noted that, such off-campus speech, without any related substantial disruption to the school, could not support discipline. Therefore, because there was insufficient evidence of a disruption of the school environment, the Third Circuit concluded that the student was inappropriately disciplined for the off-campus posting on MySpace. The Third Circuit’s opinion in that case is available here.