A student who was suspended for three days by her former high school for criticizing an advanced-placement English teacher on her Facebook page is now suing her principal with the help of the ACLU. The student, now in college, filed
a federal lawsuit over her First Amendment rights with hopes to clear her disciplinary record. In addition to the three-day suspension, she was also removed from AP classes.
She was punished for what the principal called “bullying and cyberbullying harassment towards a staff member,” after describing the teacher, in a post that she removed after a few days, as “the worst teacher I’ve ever met” and inviting others to join her in expressing “hatred” toward the teacher.
The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments today in a similar case, Layshock v. Hermitage School District, in which a Pennsylvania school district is appealing a lower court’s ruling against it. The trial court found that the district violated a student’s First Amendment rights by suspending him for posting sarcastic comments mocking his principal on a MySpace page.
Another Pennsylvania free speech dispute was decided in September, when an eighth-grade student was suspended for 10 days after she created a fake page on MySpace.com that depicted her principal as a pedophile and a sex addict. The student lost her civil rights suit now when a federal judge ruled that the discipline was proper and didn’t violate her free speech rights.
“A school can validly restrict speech that is vulgar and lewd and also it can restrict speech that promotes unlawful behavior,” U.S. District Judge James M. Munley wrote in his 20-page opinion in J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District.
And in Colorado, a Littleton High School student, Bryan Lopez, was suspended in February of this year for posting critical comments about his school on MySpace.com. The ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit saying the student’s suspension was a violation of his First Amendment rights.
As part of its agreement reached on Feb. 20 that allows Lopez back in school, the ACLU agreed not to file its lawsuit while the school said it would remove any record of a suspension from Lopez’s record, according to the ACLU.
The ACLU said Lopez’s posting was a satirical comment on the poor physical condition of the school, the behavior and demographics of students and staff, lack of resources and the perceived racial biases of teachers and administrators.
Lopez was suspended for five days, but officials then added another 10 days as they mulled over expelling him. The ACLU said Lopez used his home computer to post the message, which wasn’t viewable on school computers because of filters, and it was available only to those with a password given out by Lopez.
But it’s not just students exercising their first amendment rights on the web – outraged by deposition testimony in a fraud suit against a Houston automobile dealership, a client of a Texas attorney arranged, with the lawyer’s help, to post a six-minute excerpt of the deposition on YouTube.
But a state court judge ruled last week that the deposition had to come down because it wasn’t part of the public record in the litigation. Although she granted a protective order banning the excerpt, however, the judge declined to sanction attorney Jeffrey Weinstein for posting the excerpt, as the defense had sought.
The dealership contends that Weinstein and others are “us(ing) the discovery process as a means to harass, annoy, embarrass, and mis-characterize” its business dealings with the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s lawyer argues that the court’s prohibition on his client’s posting of the excerpt infringes on her First Amendment rights. Plans are underway to file a written transcript of the deposition at the courthouse, as part of the record in the case, and then post the full deposition on the site.