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Judge Munley is So Out of My Top 8

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the surprised-he-was-there-in-the-first-place dept.

791

Frequent Slashdot Contributor Bennett Haselton writes "A federal judge has ruled that a school district didn't violate a student's free speech rights when it suspended her for a parody MySpace page she created calling her principal a sex addict who "hits on students". In the ruling, Judge James M. Munley made the curious argument that if the case involves a student publishing lewd and offensive speech outside of school on their own time, then the proper precedent-setting cases to look to, are cases involving students making offensive statements in school during school hours, not cases involving students making less-offensive statements outside of school on their own time. In other words, if you can't find prior caselaw where all of the factors are the same, then the lewd-speech issue is more significant than the issue of whether the speech was made in or out of school." Hit that magical link below to read the rest of these words.

Apart from the politics of minors' free speech rights in general, I think there are at least three logical problems with the ruling. The first is the judge's argument that even though on-campus speech and off-campus speech are separate, if the off-campus speech is offensive enough, that elevates it to the point of giving the school jurisdiction over it. The second is the judge's comparison between a student's parody MySpace page, and the mock-threatening rap lyrics that got a student expelled in another court case -- a court ruled that the school overstepped their bounds by expelling the student for the rap song, but Judge Munley said that a MySpace page jokingly calling the principal a "sex addict" was actually more offensive than the violent rap lyrics. The third is the argument that because the student's conduct was so offensive that it could have theoretically been criminally punished if the principal took her to court, that made it acceptable for the school to take the easier route of suspending her.

All right, all together now: I'm not a lawyer, and probably neither are you. But as I've said before, if you put 10 judges in 10 separate rooms and asked them to decide this case (or any other case) independently of each other, you'd be very unlikely to get a consensus anyway. The importance of courts in a civilized society is that they provide a peaceful means of settling disputes, not because we expect that the judges will actually get the "right" answer -- that's why we don't have a crisis of faith in the system every time the Supreme Court splits 5-4. (By contrast, when physicists work on problems involving car safety and satellite trajectories, we do care about them getting the "right" answer, and so physicists are held to a higher standard than judges -- we expect that 9 physicists working on the same problem in separate rooms would all get the same result.) That goes for the rest of us too -- I have no independent confirmation that I'm right, and anyone ranting with supreme confidence that I'm wrong, has no independent confirmation that they're right, either. The best we can do is try to make arguments that are logically consistent, and check that even if they are free of internal contradicions, that they also can't be carried through to an absurd conclusion.

To wit: Judge Munley's decision cites four prior cases that involved students making offensive or disruptive speech (although still not as offensive as the MySpace page in this case calling the principal a pedophile) while on school property or at school events: Bethel School Dist v. Fraser, Hazlewood Sch. Dist. v. Kuhlmeier, Morse v. Frederick, and Klein v. Smith. In those cases, the courts ruled that the discipline did not violate the students' rights because the students were at school events or on campus when they made the statements at issue. Judge Munley then cites another list of cases in which students published speech that was generally more offensive than the incidents in the first list, but did it on their own time, away from school: Flaherty v. Keystone Oaks Sch. Dist., Latour v. Riverside Beaver Sch. Dist., Killion v. Franklin Regaional Sch. Dist., and Layshock v. Hermitage Sch. Dist. In all of these cases, the courts ruled that the school districts violated the students' rights by punishing them for off-campus speech. So far, all eight of these cases cited by Munley, followed the rule: on-campus or school-affiliated speech is punishable, off-campus speech is not. (Munley cites only one case that was an exception to this rule: Fenton v. Stear, in which the court upheld the punishment of a student who was off campus when he loudly referred to a teacher as a "prick.")

But then, Judge Munley argues more or less that the speech in this case is so offensive (calling the principal a sex addict and a pedophile), that you're allowed to lift it out of the category of off-campus speech and treat it by analogy to earlier cases involving on-campus speech. Munley wrote:

In the instant case, there can be no doubt that the speech used is vulgar and lewd. The profile contains words such as "fucking," "bitch," "fagass," "dick," "tight ass," and "dick head." The speech does not make any type of political statement. It is merely an attack on the school's principal. It makes him out to be a pedophile and sex addict. This speech is not the Tinker silent political protest. It is more akin to the lewd and vulgar speech addressed in Fraser. It is also akin to the speech that promoted illegal actions in the Morse case.

The content itself is "akin" to the offensive speech in the earlier cases, but what difference does that make, if the speech didn't take place in school? Getting back to first principles: Why does the First Amendment generally grant the freedom to call people "dick" and "tight ass"? Because it doesn't hurt anyone except to the extent that it hurts their feelings, and you don't have a right to unhurt feelings. Because the remarks can be made in the context of general legitimate criticism of someone, which might motivate them to change the behavior that led someone to call them a "tight ass" in the first place. Once these premises are accepted, it doesn't matter if you ratchet up the offensiveness from calling someone a "dick" to calling them a "fucking dick." It does change the analysis if you move the speech to a different setting, e.g. standing up in class when people are trying to learn, and shouting that the principal is a "fucking dick." But that's not what this student was doing.

After all, if the regulation of off-campus speech were justified in order to prevent harm or embarrassment to the principal, carry that through to its logical conclusion: Suppose a former student, who had since graduated, created the parody MySpace page and e-mailed it to friends at the school. The school's "interest" in preserving order and protecting the principal's reputation, would be exactly the same -- and yet no court has ever suggested that the government can punish a former student for speech outside of school (unless the speech rises to the level of threats or libel, which anyone can be punished for, regardless of the former student-principal relationship). To be punished, the former student would have to bring the speech into the school, where it could cause a disruption (and where, as a non-student, they could be banned from the premises anyway).

As for the second problem, apart from the issue of whether offensiveness alone is enough to give the school the right to punish a student for off-campus speech, there is the question of what criteria Judge Munley used to determine that the MySpace page was more offensive than the student off-campus speech in previous cases. In Latour v. Riverside Beaver Sch. Dist. , the court found that a student's rap lyrics which made mock threats toward another student, identified by name, could not be treated as a true threat because they were the kind of boastful posturing that rappers are known for (apparently including the ones in junior high school these days). Similarly, the MySpace page created in this case, began with the words:

yes. It's your oh so wonderful, hairy,
expressionless, sex addict, fagass, put on this world
with a small dick PRINCIPAL

and hopefully the principal would agree that any reasonable reader would know this was not written by him. So if the content of the speech in both cases was clearly not meant to be taken seriously, a fair apples-to-apples comparison would be to ask which is the more offensive topic: violence, or a joke about a principal listing among his "interests": "detention, being a tight ass, riding the fraintrain, spending time with my child (who looks like a gorilla), baseball, my golden pen, fucking in my office, hitting on students and their parents"?

What Judge Munley seems to be saying is that joking about murder is more acceptable than joking about a principal hitting on students. While I think this is absurd and offensive to victims of violence, I have to admit that this is at least consistent with standards of censorship in the U.S. It's a tired old complaint, but it's never been satisfactorily answered: Why can you show a character being killed on television, but a sex act is taboo? Why are the most offensive swear words derived from sex acts and sex organs, but there are no equivalent words for murder that are banned from the airwaves? What's worse?

Third, the judge seemed to adopt the position that because the student could theoretically have been prosecuted for creating the fake MySpace profile, that made it acceptable for the school to impose a milder punishment that circumvented the court system. Judge Munley wrote:

The speech at issue here could have been the basis for criminal charges against J.S. Additionally, the state police indicated to McGonigle that he could press harassment charges based upon the imposter profile. (Dep. McG, 98- 99). McGonigle indicated that he would not press charges, but asked the police officer to contact the students involved and their parents to inform them of the seriousness of the situation. (Dep. McG at 99, 163-64). The officer summoned the students and their parents to the state police station and discussed the seriousness of the profile and that McGonigle would not press charges.

It's at least debatable whether the MySpace page, which was an obvious parody, could have been the basis for criminal charges. But suppose we grant the judge that point. In that case, even if we know that someone's actions would have gotten them a more severe punishment from the courts, is it acceptable to give them a lighter punishment for something else, just because that's simpler for the school?

No. First, because it fosters disrespect for the rule of law in general: If you committed X, then you should be punished for X, according to the rules set up for punishing X. When Judge Jackie Glass began O.J. Simpson's trial this month for robbing two men at gunpoint, she told jurors: "If you think you are going to punish Mr Simpson for what happened in 1995, this is not the case for you." She, like most sentient beings, probably believed privately that O.J. committed the murders in 1994, but she knew the rule of law was more important than the outcome of any one case, even a murder trial. Second, lighter punishments (such as a suspension from school) often come with a lower standard of judicial review, so you could end up getting an undeserved punishment, in cases where a proper trial for the actual crime at issue might have found that you should not have been punished at all. (Al Capone did get put away for tax evasion, but the court found that he was in fact guilty of tax evasion -- they weren't reaching that as a compromise to avoid trying him for his crimes as a gangster.)

To come clean, however, I have to admit that I have tried to egg judges down that route occasionally. I've taken spammers to court and gotten them to say, under oath, that they never sent any spam and didn't know what I was talking about, before I revealed a tape-recording of a conversation (recorded legally) in which they offered to send 5 million pieces of spam for $500, that the spams were routed out through a server in China to help defeat spam filters, etc. The idea was that the judge would get pissed at the spammer for committing perjury, but realize that it would be too much paperwork to prosecute that, so just bang them over the head with a thousand-dollar judgment for spamming, which would go to me. Unfortunately this can backfire if the judge is so opposed to anti-spam suits that no amount of evidence will convince them anyway. But even if it had worked, it would not be strictly correct to say that justice had been done -- perjury should be punished as perjury, even if only with a slap on the wrist.

So, I'm sure that Judge Munley was trying in his own way to do the right thing by preserving order in the school system, but he probably decided in advance what conclusion to reach, and came up with the arguments after the fact. Still, it may not be a loss for student rights in the long run. The ACLU, which represented the student, has not said whether they will appeal, and anyway, virtually all other caselaw so far has said that student speech off campus is protected, as Judge Munley himself pointed out.

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This is actually quite educational (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105735)

Better for the kid to learn now that "free speech" is (and always has been) a crock of shit in the U.S. It's just one of those terms that we throw around to make ourselves feel superior to other countries. But when you take even the most cursory look at it, you realize it's as hollow as a reed. "The right to free speech" in reality translates to "The right to conventional, relatively non-controversial speech in a setting that will not upset anyone or be particularly noticed by anyone who might be offended or threatened by said speech." The second you attempt to break out of any one of those tight boundaries, you WILL find yourself in jail/kicked out of school/fired/persecuted or in some way silenced or punished.

That kid just learned one of the most important lessons in life: That what people SAY and CLAIM has little to do with what they DO and how they actually ACT. And that goes for the government, politicians, and just about everyone else. Just because some civics class says you have "the right to free speech" does not mean that you can actually ever speak freely in any real world environment without fear of persecution.

Consider it the first of many disillusioning life lessons, kid.

Re:This is actually quite educational (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25105827)

Wow, I feel dumber for having read your response ...

"Free Speech" doesn't mean that you get to say whatever you want to say all the time without consequences. Realistically, what was the worse outcome, being suspended for a couple of days or having the principle sue her and her parents for slandering him?

Re:This is actually quite educational (5, Insightful)

tha_mink (518151) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106017)

"Free Speech" doesn't mean that you get to say whatever you want to say all the time without consequences. Realistically, what was the worse outcome, being suspended for a couple of days or having the principle sue her and her parents for slandering him?

Not only that, but the student only got suspended. I didn't find anything to support the claim that the student doesn't still maintain the right to keep the myspace page up. So she still has the right to free speech, and also the right to suffer the consequences for he actions. Do you think it would be a violation of your free speech rights if you got fired for putting a myspace page up with slander or libel about your boss?

Re:This is actually quite educational (4, Insightful)

evanbd (210358) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106371)

The courts have long held that school is different from work, and that you do not give up your rights merely by being a student. Partly this is because school is not a voluntary thing on the part of the student. Also, the school district is acting on behalf of the government, which is distinct from a private employer. The fact that she has the ability to continue publishing, but be punished for it, does not mean that the punishment isn't an infringement of her right to free speech.

Re:This is actually quite educational (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106209)

Wow, I feel dumber for having read your response ...

Then you owe your parent poster your thanks for increasing your personal insight, as it is right and proper that you feel dumb.

"Free Speech" doesn't mean that you get to say whatever you want to say all the time without consequences.

When those consequences come in the form of punishment from a government-funded institution - yes, it fucking well does.

Realistically, what was the worse outcome, being suspended for a couple of days or having the principle sue her and her parents for slandering him?

Ah, yes, the "it could have been worse" defense. Be glad I just broke your window, I could have burned down your whole house!

Re:This is actually quite educational (5, Insightful)

crath (80215) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105889)

What catches my attention is that the student didn't merely call the principle names, but also accused the principle of engaging in a felony (chile abuse; aka "hitting on kids"). It is never "free speech" to accuse someone of a crime; especially, as is now the case in our society, a crime where society consistently considers the accused to be guilty until proven innocent.

Re:This is actually quite educational (1)

Sj0 (472011) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106347)

Actually, civil libel can only be prosecuted if a damages arguement can be concoted.

If the principal were to use a "pain and suffering" theory of damages, I think he could win the case, but he'd get fired immediately afterwards, for being far too delicate for the job of running a school.

Re:This is actually quite educational (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106359)

If the child engaged in criminal libel or slander, prosecute him for that. No school official should have any jurisdiction over anything that happens out of the regular boundaries of school activities.

No no no (1)

Alaren (682568) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106391)

Please see my comment here [slashdot.org] and elsewhere in this thread.

This is a massive misunderstanding of the problem that is permeating the entire discussion. The principal may well have a civil case for libel (though "hitting on kids" is pretty vague and may not even be a felony depending on what act is being described).

Having a civil case for libel is not the test for whether off-campus student speech can support expulsion.

This decision may not actually be an incorrect one, but "this is clearly libel" is not the controlling question.

I am not a lawyer, the foregoing is not legal advice--just my informed analysis of the situation.

Re:This is actually quite educational (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105907)

No we have the right for controversial speech. We don't have the right to personally attack people without good evidence to back it up. Free Speech has a limit when you use it to Harm someone(s).

Re:This is actually quite educational (2, Interesting)

MindlessAutomata (1282944) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106365)

What is harm"? A weasel word if I ever heard one. Namecalling? Poopiehead buttsniffer!

But seriously, and before anyone makes it, there's a difference between that tired old "shouting fire in a crowded theater" analogy" and telling someone they smell like an elephant's butt. It's true people are affected by the things other's say, but it's nearly impossible to know how they will really react to it. I know if I cut you you'll bleed; I don't know that if I said you smelled like rancid turnips you'd go kill yourself.

Anyway, where do you draw the line? Why is it so wrong to basically call the school principle a pervert (and maybe some students have caught him staring at their breasts!) and yet be able to call Bush a child killer? Sure, Bush may be president, and famous, but is that really a good reason?

Before we shout out about libel, there is also a difference between truly believing in what you say, and lying to destroy someone's reputation; there also could be a difference in the actual content and nature of the accusation, much in the same way it is to say "Steve likes fat girls" compared to "Steve raped me...!"

Re:This is actually quite educational (2, Informative)

isBandGeek() (1369017) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105929)

"The right to free speech" in reality translates to "The right to conventional, relatively non-controversial speech in a setting that will not upset anyone or be particularly noticed by anyone who might be offended or threatened by said speech." The second you attempt to break out of any one of those tight boundaries, you WILL find yourself in jail/kicked out of school/fired/persecuted or in some way silenced or punished.

The right to free speech does not include the right to libel anyone.

But this being the Internet, I think the valuable "life lesson" that the kid should have learned is that she should have been more careful in covering her own tracks.

Re:This is actually quite educational (5, Informative)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106123)

If I were to call you a motherfucking dumbass, cock-licking asswipe, I'd be legal and in the clear, as they represent opinions.

However, if I were to call you a pedophile kiddie-diddler anal-raper, I'd be breaking heavy libel laws, as those are legal devices only found as such in a court room under "Guilty".

It's the same reason why Rosie O'Donnell could have gotten in a lawsuit with Donald Trump. She said that he went bankrupt. He filed no bankruptcy proceeding. Because bankruptcy is a legal device, and she was falsely claiming it, she was breaking slander, in that case (was on TV when she said it: library-books-libel)

God, enough of this (5, Insightful)

QZTR (1351145) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105951)

"The right to free speech" in reality translates to "The right to conventional, relatively non-controversial speech in a setting that will not upset anyone or be particularly noticed by anyone who might be offended or threatened by said speech."

Uh huh.

The second you attempt to break out of any one of those tight boundaries, you WILL find yourself in jail/kicked out of school/fired/persecuted or in some way silenced or punished.

Um, of course they will. You see, those are the consequences of your free speech. There has never been any real disagreement on this issue, you have free speech, and you have the responsibility to use it wisely.

Pretending like "free speech" means "say whatever the fuck I want with impunity, while simultaneously forcing others to accept my speech without exercising their own free speech (which is your primary complaint)" is bullshit.

Free speech never meant "say what you like with impunity" and anyone claiming otherwise is full of it.

Re:God, enough of this (5, Insightful)

bigpaperbag (1105581) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106089)

Exactly. Consequences seem to have become antiquated these days.

Re:God, enough of this (5, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106343)

Consequences seem to have become antiquated these days.

And public schools were one of the first victims of this. If their child isn't marked as perfect in every way, many parents will harass the teachers until they give in, and any teacher who dares discipline their golden child faces the wrath of hell itself. I'm surprised that suspensions wasn't replaced with "verbal hugs", wherein the student is made to feel so loved that they fix whatever's wrong! (without physical contact, of course, because that would get them arrested)

Re:God, enough of this (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106373)

Pretending like "free speech" means "say whatever the fuck I want with impunity, while simultaneously forcing others to accept my speech without exercising their own free speech (which is your primary complaint)" is bullshit.

Either your think that suspending a student from a public school is a form of speech (in which case, you're an idiot) or you're grossly distorting what your parent poster said (in which case, you're a liar).

So which are you, a liar or an idiot? Those are your ONLY possible choices, and any other claim you make will merely prove beyond all possible doubt that it's "both".

Re:This is actually quite educational (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106009)

I have it on good authority that elrous0 is a pedophile. He has repeatedly propositioned me for sex (I'm a 12 year old boy), and has harassed my family when I've rejected him. Also, he has B.O.

Any down-mods for this post are an attack on free-speech and I will respond by murdering the president.

Re:This is actually quite educational (1)

isBandGeek() (1369017) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106325)

Murder the president? I think most people on /. wouldn't mind. A few might even encourage you.

Re:This is actually quite educational (2)

jorghis (1000092) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106053)

Based on both your comments and your response time it is fairly clear you didnt actually read what happened. (unless you are capable of parsing all that in under 60 seconds) She was libeling her principle. If I were working in education and someone said stuff like that about me I would sue the bejeebers out of them, she should be glad that this is all that happened to her.

Re:This is actually quite educational (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106161)

he had plenty of time. notice the asterisk next to his name.

Re:This is actually quite educational (4, Insightful)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106083)

Better for the kid to learn now that "free speech" is (and always has been) a crock of shit in the U.S. ... Just because some civics class says you have "the right to free speech" does not mean that you can actually ever speak freely in any real world environment without fear of persecution.

That's a "crock of shit". Free speech (in the U.S.) doesn't mean one can say anything they want about someone with impunity. Unless the site was *clearly* a parody, calling someone a "sex addict who 'hits on students'" is slander - or libel when written.

I haven't seen the student site but can't really imagine why it would be considered a parody. Is the principal famous or a otherwise well-known or out-spoken person with a position on the subject? Is the student obviously poking fun at the person and/or his position, or just making stuff up that another, uninformed, person may take to be truth?

Re:This is actually quite educational (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106113)

I have a problem here. If the student had called allegations of impropriety at a church in to the police, they would have emptied out that place with bulldozers and helicopters and armed vehicles. But since it was a _school_, the principal didn't even get investigated? I'd have to say that this soulds like the student thought there was more going on than was being investigated, and was acting out this way because the authorities were not doing their proper job of protecting the students.

Re:This is actually quite educational (5, Insightful)

RabidMonkey (30447) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106117)

"The right to free speech" in reality translates to "The right to conventional, relatively non-controversial speech in a setting that will not upset anyone or be particularly noticed by anyone who might be offended or threatened by said speech." The second you attempt to break out of any one of those tight boundaries, you WILL find yourself in jail/kicked out of school/fired/persecuted or in some way silenced or punished.

I think that we need to look at the right to free speech in the context it was originally added in, and is still relevant in other places in the world. The fact of the matter is, you are free to say whatever you want, but not without consequences. When "the right to free speech" was made a Big Thing, and again, in other places in the world, you could be deprived of life/liberty for saying anything remotely against the $LEADER (Monarch, Church, Dictator, Baron).

While I do think that this, and many other judgements go against the spirit of the "free speech", I think that we need to be careful to avoid hyperbole about just how much it's curtailed. You don't have roving squads of government sponsored thugs taking/torturing/killing people for speaking out. You don't have to watch every word you say to your friends/neighbours, you don't have to be careful about what you write.

So, while we have free speech, that doesn't mean "speech with no consequences". In this case, specifically, the student was probably a little out of line, but is allowed to be. However, there were consequences, and none of them involved an overly harsh punishment (oohh, suspended!).

Don't take this as me saying it's ok for this to happen, but simply as me saying "lets put things in the right light". Lets avoid the OH MY GOD THE WORLD IS ENDING hyperbole that is so popular on these threads, and speak reasonably, because honestly, things could be a lot worse.

Re:This is actually quite educational (4, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106189)

I would like to explained out-right that we cannot live by our professed and proclaimed ideals. Our politicians suppress peaceful protests during political rallies often resulting in violent conflicts, abuse by police and false imprisonment.

The lesson should be that position and authority trumps the rule of law. We are seeing that all over in spite of constitutional law to the contrary.

But in looking at the case in hand, I have to wonder what the "best" course of action should be. Accusing someone of professional misconduct and of being a pedophile [starting a witch hunt under the notion that there must be a 'grain of truth'] is a very damaging act.

I think the "right" thing to do would have been to first demand a retraction, removal and apology. Failing that, the principal should have filed his own individual suit against the student. "Free Speech" does have its practical limits after all. Using the force of the principal's authority in this way sends a message that reflects a deviation from our social ideals. And ultimately, the parody was a personal attack and should be responded to personally, not professionally. Words like "Abuse of position, power and authority" come to mind when the individual attack is responded to in this way.

I think the principal should "fight back" but should also "fight fair." ...and this doesn't bring up the shadowy question of whether or not there is a grain of truth in the parody.

Wow I bet you feel like a fucking moron (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106207)

You tossed out the obligatory "this is an attack on free speech" karma whoring to a rabid pro free speech audience, and yet they still told you you were an idiot.

Get the hint yet?

Re:This is actually quite educational (5, Insightful)

Sj0 (472011) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106271)

This is an interesting case because the submitter is correct. There's no jurisdiction for a school to be regulating speech outside the school. If the principal has a problem with something said about him outside of his little sphere of influence, then he isn't God, nor a king. He should press charges for civil libel, which would surely be dropped because there's no arguement for damages.

There was a case in Alaska which was tried by the Supreme Court of the United States, and they spent the entire discussion phase trying to determine whether the acts had taken place during school time, turning it into something the school has jurisdiction over.

The ruling which says the principal has jurisdiction over a student's free time is simply extending a despotic bureaucrat's powers far beyond what they ought to be. It's bad enough that we subject our children to the tyrannical reign of the school administration, which exists without any checks or balances, without any due process or practical restraint on abuses of power, for 8 hours a day. Allowing them power over children fully 24 hours a day is placing children fully into the custody of the school. We might as well stop asking parents to watch their children at all, because the "benevolent" god-kings in the school administration can act as judge, jury, and executioner in all cases, on and off of school property.

Schools and Office Politics (5, Interesting)

mfh (56) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105743)

The school's responsibility is to prepare you for life after you are finished school. Office politics play a huge role in that kind of development, because you cannot escape office politics -- they permiate every infrsstructure, at every level. It's a large part of the game and there is no getting around it, sorry.

Furthermore, I can guarantee that if you made fun of your boss as being a sex addict who hits on employees, you would be fired immediately. You might have a case for wrongful dismissal, but your lawyer would tell you to drop it and get another job (because even if the boss hit on you there are better options than public mockery -- judges tend to dislike that).

Re:Schools and Office Politics (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105759)

From TFA:

"But Munley found the more appropriate Supreme Court decision to apply was the 1986 decision in Bethel School District v. Fraser, in which the justices upheld a suspension imposed on a student who used "an elaborate, graphic, and explicit sexual metaphor" during a speech at a school assembly...

In its most recent school free speech case, the 2007 decision in Morse v. Frederick, Munley found that the justices upheld a suspension of a student who had unfurled a banner that read "BONG HiTS 4JESUS" during a school- sponsored trip to view the Olympic torch relay.

The cases cited as precedent have to do with speech made at school or at a school function(as emphasized above) and I agree that schools should be allowed to regulate as necessary, but they should have no place in silencing speech outside of school or school functions.

Now, if they could prove that the MySpace page was made by the student while they were at school, that'd be understandable, but in this case they should have notified the parent and left it up to the parent to decide appropriate punishment. Let's hope some asshole judge dosen't use the same stretch if/when the legality of something like Roe vs. Wade is again put to the test!

Re:Schools and Office Politics (1)

withoutfeathers (743004) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106115)

Left up to the parents to decide appropriate punishment? In what liberal democracy is defamation considered a family issue?

As others have noted: That girl should consider herself lucky that the principal was willing to handle this in the way it was handled. If I were in that principal's place, I would have seen to it that the girl felt the full weight of civil law and carried the stigma of her action for the rest of her life.

BTW, if Roe v Wade is ever overturned (as it should be) the outcome will have little actual impact on abortion. Abortion in the U.S. was legal before Roe v Wade and it will remain legal after Roe v Wade. All that will happen is that you will have 50 states and DC legislating the narrow legal protection of "compelling interest" into practice.

Re:Schools and Office Politics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106381)

Left up to the parents to decide appropriate punishment?

Parent in the USA can't seem to even be bothered to determine what video games their kids play or what movies they watch. That's why everyone wants the gov't to decide for them.

Re:Schools and Office Politics (2, Insightful)

htrn (125633) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106163)

To further the discussion a little, with the internet being as pervasive as it is in our society it could be possible that someone was accessing this content at the school thereby bringing the comments to the campus of the school.

Even with this potential I do not believe that it should be within the jurisdiction of the school district to punish the offending party within their rules if the content was not created there, but it does provide an argument that it could be stated "on school premises".

I personally believe that the school district, and the offended party in particular should have the capability to pursue statutory damages if this is something that is truly libelous or damaging to the career of the educator. This does not, however, include the act that was taken by the school district in my opinion.

Re:Schools and Office Politics (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106169)

"Now, if they could prove that the MySpace page was made by the student while they were at school, that'd be understandable, but in this case they should have notified the parent and left it up to the parent to decide appropriate punishment."

Umm, no. It's this or sue for libel. The kid got off lightly really.

Re:Schools and Office Politics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106319)

Why are you talking about schools here. That's beyond the point.

This kid made accusations, kidding, satire, whatever, against someone else. The fact that it's her principal is irrelevant. The fact that's she's not in school is irrelevant.

This is about someone being malicious against someone else. Period.

Re:Schools and Office Politics (1)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105867)

You are right on the spot and you should be modded up.

Re:Schools and Office Politics (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106029)

STFU you redundant sycophant.

Re:Schools and Office Politics (1)

omfgnosis (963606) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105893)

But the corporate scenario equivalent is not public mockery it's whistleblowing.

Re:Schools and Office Politics (1)

mfh (56) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106177)

But the corporate scenario equivalent is not public mockery it's whistleblowing.

I think if the student had a case, she's impeded it. But still I think that the teacher should be reviewed and monitored in the future. If he turns out to be a pedophile, we'll read about it here!

Here's the thing (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25105795)

Minors don't have rights.

Re:Here's the thing (1)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105899)

So, if you are a minor, your right to "freedom of speech" is abridged?

Re:Here's the thing (1)

haystor (102186) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106035)

You don't have the right to libel.

Should the school consider that he's committed a crime against their personnel only a coincidence?

Re:Here's the thing (3, Informative)

mhazen (144368) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106097)

No, if you're a minor, you don't HAVE Constitutional rights, unless you've been emancipated by a court in advance of your 18th birthday.

Does anyone take Civics any more?

Re:Here's the thing (2, Interesting)

MindlessAutomata (1282944) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106405)

Does anyone take Civics any more?

Apparently you did, which is why you believe that bullshit. You make the mistake of trusting the courts, first of all, as the courts are basically like shamanistic magic that is based on tradition, based on formula, and made up as you go along.

The Supreme Court has ruled, that students don't "shed their constitutional rights ⦠at the schoolhouse gate", anyway. (Tinker v. Des Moines)

But who really cares? Who cares what the courts think? Do you even believe your own argument? Does the state have a right to systematically execute minors? Why not, I thought they don't have rights?

Re:Here's the thing (1)

The Moof (859402) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106239)

Not quite. Anyone can say whatever they want. But if it's malicious and false (such as calling a school principal a pedophile), you better be prepared to get sued. From what I've read, it sounds like a suspension was light punishment compared to the alternative.

Re:Here's the thing (1)

PainKilleR-CE (597083) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106329)

Sure enough, after all, the school is a government-run institution. The case law makes it clear that saying certain things in school can be grounds for punishment. It's unlikely someone would be prosecuted for calling someone a prick, but if you do so at school you'll be punished.

Generally, the rights of minors are abridged, but they (as minors) are afforded a greater level of protection by the government, as well. They aren't prosecuted under the same legal system, and their parents often share some of the punishment for their actions.

Then again, the government can also turn around and try a minor as an adult with no prior notification of the new status or extension of the minor's legal rights.

Re:Here's the thing (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105989)

Minors have the right to pay taxes. Sales tax and income tax alike.

Anyone recall that saying "No taxation without representation"?

I am a Patriotic American. And I hate to see how far this nation has fallen. There is no issue here, she committed no crime. Therefore the only one with any right to sanction this child for her activities is her parents.

Re:Here's the thing (2, Insightful)

Atheose (932144) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106127)

There is no issue here, she committed no crime.

It's called libel/slander. She's lucky the principle isn't suing her. Freedom of Speech doesn't mean Freedom to do anything you want.

Re:Here's the thing (1)

Poltras (680608) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106323)

So you'd let him/her libel her director on and on without consequences? What would be the limit, then? You'd be okay if s/he starts the rumor that the last time s/he was alone with the director he raped her? I am sick of students that think they can do whatever they can without repercussion.

Not seeing the problem (5, Insightful)

FluffyWithTeeth (890188) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105837)

That sounds like blatant libel.

The stupid girl should consider herself lucky for having it settled with a simple suspension rather than being taken to court.

Re:Not seeing the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25105903)

I agree. I'm all for free speech, but when it's a blatant attack against someone without any actual proof or fact, then it's just libel. There's a reason that newspapers can't just print things like this and I don't see why a public forum on the internet would be any different.

Now, if she had proof that he had a small dick, then I could see the problem.

Re:Not seeing the problem (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105915)

That sounds like blatant libel.

Not until he drops his pants and produces a ruler!

Re:Not seeing the problem (4, Insightful)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105941)

Exactly.

But then again, little Johnny(or Suzie) School Kid doesn't realize that it could be worse. If I were the judge, I would have asked which way they wanted to defend it.

Do you want to defend this as a "School Matter" or under "Criminal Justice or Civil Court" rules.

Re:Not seeing the problem (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25105993)

She didn't do these things while at school, didn't use school equipment, etc... why should the school be able to punish her? It should have been takent to court and not dealt with in school.

If two students get into a fight on a weekend while not on school property then they wouldn't be punished by the school, so how is this any different?

Re:Not seeing the problem (1)

chaffed (672859) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106041)

Agreed.

This is a civil matter involving libel. I'm sure a couple days out of class is better than a several thousand dollar settlement.

#include DevilsAdvocate.h

Isn't this an abuse of power by the principal? Shouldn't the correct course of action, if he wished to be made whole, had been pursuing a civil suit?

I think this is akin to the city repossessing your house because you called the county commissioner a "doo doo head". This hypothetical is the same in reaction but not in scale.

Re:Not seeing the problem (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106219)

Perhaps she should.

And perhaps the guy who defamed me should consider himself lucky that I just keyed his car rather than suing him. Doesn't mean I'd get off from the charge of criminal damage if I did that, nor does it mean I wouldn't be able to sue for defamation.

Parents? (1)

glrotate (300695) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105839)

If I did something like this my dad would have beat the crap out out me, not be a schmuck and help me sue, sue sue.

Little Johnny can do no wrong.

Since when was Slander and Liable free speech? (4, Insightful)

MosesJones (55544) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105861)

This isn't satire, this isn't parody, this is just abusive stuff out of the mind of a teenager, they might think its "cool" but in fact accusing a principal in this heavily sensitive times of being a paedophile is just about as low and threatening as a student can get. This isn't free speech in the same way as a John Stewart gag is satire this is just abusive rubbish out of the mind of an immature kid.

Getting kicked out is the least of this kid's problems, they are lucky that they aren't looking down the barrel of a lawsuit with lots of damages attached.

Free Speech is critical to a well functioning democracy and its worth defending, but it isn't a license to just spout off crap. Hell even Spiderman movies know that "with great power comes great responsibility".

Re:Since when was Slander and Liable free speech? (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105953)

Oh please. Quoting a damned movie for life advice, eh?

Here's a clue: EVERYBODY has free speech. Everybody, thanks to the Internet, can be a reporter.

Here's another clue: The principal SHOULD NOT have used school against the cretin. There's this wonderful law called Slander and Libel. Perhaps, he ought to use it against the kid and their parents.

Re:Since when was Slander and Liable free speech? (4, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105965)

This isn't satire, this isn't parody, this is just abusive stuff out of the mind of a teenager

It doesn't matter; if a teenager libels the principal outside the school, the principal's legitimate response would be a libel suit. NOT to take on the role of judge, jury, and executioner himself. That's corruption on the principal's part, using his official power to address a personal wrong.

Re:Since when was Slander and Liable free speech? (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106121)

It might be libel. Then again the kid could just be exaggerating for effect. Sometimes kids have a hard time telling a serious issue seriously and respond by making it more humorous. There should be some sort of investigation to see if the claims have any merit. If they don't, they don't and he's just a punk kid that should be disciplined with all of the consequences you listed. The allegations should still be looked into.

I didn't see anything in the story that even mentions any kind of investigation of the accusations.

You Missed the Issue (1)

Alaren (682568) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106187)

I actually wrote an article that will be appearing in the next issue of the BYU Law Review [byu.edu] about this very problem (Vol. 2008 Issue 3). The article is entitled "Locating the Mislaid Gate: Revitalizing Tinker by Repairing Judicial Overgeneralizations of Technologically-Enabled Student Speech."

Whether the girl is liable of slander is irrelevant in the public school setting. That is a civil matter the alleged victim is free to pursue. But acting for the government (as public schools are government entities) in expelling her may well have been inappropriate.

Expulsion for speech has historically been limited to disruptive speech (actual or reasonably anticipated disruption) that takes place on campus or during a school-sponsored event. The challenge of technology is that speech can take place off-campus and be brought onto campus by independent actors.

Having not read the facts of this case, I cannot say definitively whether the ruling is erroneous--if the girl encouraged classmates to visit her MySpace page while on-campus, the school may have a valid argument. However, judging by the general history of this issue (technologically-enabled student speech), there's a pretty good chance that the judge got it wrong.

And as always, I am not (yet) a lawyer, and none of the foregoing is legal advice.

Re:Since when was Slander and Liable free speech? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106233)

Since when was Slander and Liable free speech?

It isn't free, AFAIK, McCain has to pay for his advertising.

... /DUCKS/

Re:Since when was Slander and Liable free speech? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106247)

http://www.nolo.com/definition.cfm/term/7613C25C-8E5D-47A5-9E0D93B952DE16E7

It is a libel. Look it up.

Re:Since when was Slander and Liable free speech? (1)

sampson7 (536545) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106257)

So only good (i.e., skillfully done) parodies or satire should be protected? Who exactly makes that decision? Sure, this kid's writing sucks -- should that entitle him/her to less constitutional protection?

My son, my responsibility. (4, Insightful)

RingDev (879105) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106293)

I totally agree that a suspension is an easy break for the kid, but...

Look at the precedence. If this ruling goes unchallenged, what's to prevent a school from suspending any student they like for posting something on their my-space page? A student could post a valid, non-libel complaint about one of their instructors, and get suspended for it even though the comment was made off school grounds/times and was not in violation of the law. And what if it gets into even more heated topics. A white girl in a southern Georgia town post pictures of her date with her new black boyfriend to a social networking site and gets a 3 day suspension from School, why? Because the principal is a racist. Take it to court, and he'll site this case as precedence. Given power and time someone will abuse it.

This is a pretty significant power grab being made by the school that dramatically shifts the existing boundaries of power. As a quasi-conservative, I can't fathom why anyone would want to have such a result. I mean, I entrust the school system with my son during the day. I expect that they will keep an eye on him and make sure he performs well and integrates with society. When he leaves school, he is my responsibility, not theirs. And if he posts some crap like this on the internet, it is MY job to discipline him, not the school's. If the Principal wants to be responsible for disciplining my son for things that happen out side of the school environment, he can talk to me, or he can talk to a lawyer.

-Rick

Oblig. grammar (1, Funny)

electrosoccertux (874415) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106297)

If he slanders, is he liable for committing libel.

This post brought to you by the character "/", and the punctuation mark "."

Re:Since when was Slander and Liable free speech? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106309)

A libel suit filed by the principal is an appropriate response. A suspension by the school isn't. Remember, public schools are state governmental agencies. Do you really want the government able to take punitive action towards you if you decide to make insulting, disparaging remarks about its employees or elected officials publicly? There are already laws which provide remedies to libel or slander that would hold the students accountable for their speech. But I'm not sure when it became acceptable that schools are given extralegal control over students' first amendment rights when their speech is made clearly outside the time of school supervision.

No shit (4, Insightful)

phorm (591458) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106379)

It seems like the writer of the article assumes that "actions done outside should shouldn't have consequences/effects/jurisdiction inside school." This is bullshit. Aside from the fact that this teen should be held up on charges of liable/slander (depending on whether said statements were made solely online), the fact is that actions corresponding to the institution apply outside of the physical premises.

I seem to remember plenty of cases where kids would be beaten by classmates outside of school grounds. The argument by the bullies was that it wasn't on school properly, and thus not in the school's concern (although this is a dumb concept in itself, for as such that would make it more of a police concern and/or an assault charge... a suspension seems a lighter consequence).

This is a school matter, as well as a legal matter, and - unless the principal does turn out to be at fault (which requires actual charges, evidence, and court hearings, not just hearsay) - as such should be fully within the school's jurisdiction to discipline. There's a big difference between writing something silly online like

"Mr X is a poopoo head" (infantile and easily disregarded)

or

"Mr X sucks donkey dong" (infantile, still more likely to be disregarded, but depending on scale may warrant detention)

In this case,
"Mr X molests small children in his office" is - by the nature of the comment - damaging to the reputation of the principal, and warrants both in-school (detention/suspension) and legal (civil and/or libel charges).

The fact is, people are often by nature willing to believe the worst in somebody. Even if it seems spurious, such a claim - because of its gravity, and prior histories of such instances - can be damaging simply because of the little nagging "it seems untrue, but what if..." thoughts it tends to bring up.

To those that disagree: if somebody posts up a MySpace page claiming that you are a flaming bisexual with a penchant for buggery of small children and animals... do you think that "free speech" should allow them a pass? How about when your future or current employer finds this page when checking into you online?

+1 parent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106407)

this should score a 5 for telling the truth

The biggest problem (2, Interesting)

omfgnosis (963606) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105869)

Obviously this is an injustice in its own right. Regardless of what "the real world" is like, this is not how it is supposed to be.

But what's especially troubling is that it can be used as precedent to shut down corporate/government whistleblowers. If an institution's rules apply even when you're outside of that institution, your employer owns you.

Re:The biggest problem (1)

RaceProUK (1137575) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106023)

I don't see this as an injustice. In fact, I'm siding with the judge on this one. I don't think that the right to free speech is violated here. This case falls under libel and/or slander.

While it may feel wrong when interpreted as the school 'supressing' the student's right to free speech, it makes more sense when it's a case of the school protecting its staff and students from the wreckless, provoking behaviour of one student.

In addition, I don't see this as a deterrant to whistleblowers, because they actually have evidence to back up their claims. With evidence, it cannot be libel.

Disclaimer: I am British and IANAL.

Domain and jurisdiction (2, Informative)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105873)

The basic error made by the judge seems to be that because the speech was _about_ the school, it is under the school's jurisdiction. That's his "connection between the off-campus action and on-campus effect." And the Supreme Court opened up the door to this sort of specious reasoning in "Morse v. Frederick", where they ruled that a banner visible from the school (but not on school property) was considered to be under school jurisdiction. The Supreme Court didn't rely on that fact alone, but it's enough for a judge who makes the decision first and justifies it later to hang an opinion on.

Re:Domain and jurisdiction (1)

Cor-cor (1330671) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106201)

I'm pretty sure the school officials aren't just going to sit there and take abuse like this. If these kind of things keep going to court, schools are eventually going to wise up and just start targeting those kids with standard violations more. So maybe instead of suspending you for that offense per se, they will just watch really close until the kid screws up with something else like cheating on a test and bring out the school code in the full force it almost never sees.

The kids may think they are smarter than the adults in charge, but that is almost never the case. Especially if they're using MySpace to launch attacks at someone.

Freedom of speech.... (4, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105891)

Doesn't mean freedom from consequence - its called responsibility.

Re:Freedom of speech.... (4, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106015)

Of course freedom of speech means freedom from consequence -- at least, official governmental consequence. If it didn't, it would be meaningless. The government could pass a law saying "Anyone criticizing a member of Congress, Senator, President, or Vice President shall be executed", and it wouldn't violate "free speech" as you've defined it.

Re:Freedom of speech.... (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106137)

Free speech comes with it a responsibility to use it responsibly - there are plenty of current laws that you can fall foul of by using some forms of speech (ever tried threatening someone? Ever tried threatening the President? Should threats be above reproach? How about false advertising?), some of which I disagree with, some I do not. But the responsibility always exists.

Please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25105923)

Can you guys please give Haselton an author account so we can choose to block him? I simply don't understand why he needs to be proxied through our filters like this, unless the editors just don't trust him with an account. (Which seems odd, given Michael Sims and some of the others they've had.)

And if he must keep posting through Taco, can we please get an update on his lawsuit against his one-time date for not paying her share of the tab?

c.f. sexual harassment law? (5, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105935)

IANAL, but my understanding was that with respect to employee conduct, sexual harassment does not make a distinction between harassing coworkers inside the workplace and outside the workplace, so long as they are actually your coworkers. So I could certainly see the rational, if not legal, argument for this ruling.

Speaking of IANAL, since when did Slashdot publish essays on law from someone who explicitly states he's not a lawyer (although he's taken people to court under very different circumstances from the article)? What makes them qualified to get a whole Slashdot article to themselves?

Re:c.f. sexual harassment law? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105955)

I should say, why isn't this on somebody's blog, and then linked to, rather than posted as an article on its own?

Counter example? (3, Informative)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105937)

While not directly analogous I think the best counter example to this is the Supreme Court case Huster v Falwell [wikipedia.org] . While that case doesn't apply directly to students, it says that lewd and offensive are not enough to disqualify something from free speech protections. In that case, Jerry Falwell sued Hustler for publishing a parody of a Campri ad where it insinuated that Jerry's first time was with his mother in an outhouse. The lower courts found that though no one could possibly believe the parody was truth, the ad was offensive enough to rule for Falwell. The Supreme Court disagreed:

At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern. The freedom to speak one's mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty - and thus a good unto itself - but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole. We have therefore been particularly vigilant to ensure that individual expressions of ideas remain free from governmentally imposed sanctions. . . Generally speaking, the law does not regard the intent to inflict emotional distress as one which should receive much solicitude, and it is quite understandable that most, if not all, jurisdictions have chosen to make it civilly culpable where the conduct in question is sufficiently "outrageous." But in the world of debate about public affairs, many things done with motives that are less than admirable are protected by the First Amendment.

Re:Counter example? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106275)

While not directly analogous I think the best counter example to this is the Supreme Court case Huster v Falwell. While that case doesn't apply directly to students, it says that lewd and offensive are not enough to disqualify something from free speech protections. In that case, Jerry Falwell sued Hustler for publishing a parody of a Campri ad where it insinuated that Jerry's first time was with his mother in an outhouse. The lower courts found that though no one could possibly believe the parody was truth, the ad was offensive enough to rule for Falwell. The Supreme Court disagreed:

That would likely be directly relevant if this was a libel case. No one is going to believe a MySpace page where a principal depicts himself as "being a tight ass," "fucking in my office" and "hitting on students and their parents,". So likely no libel here, though two of those statements might be libelous if the students made the accusation directly rather than depicting the principal as admitting it.

IANAL and IANAT (5, Interesting)

blcamp (211756) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105963)

I love free speech as much as the next Yankee, BUT...

Let's ask this question: what would happen to a school kid if he/she directed the same kind of provocative language at the principal or a school teacher, IN PERSON, either in the hallway or in a classroom?

How long would it take to slap down a suspension? It would probably happen before you or I could finish saying the word "suspension".

For right or for wrong, pure "free speech" in this case is going to take a back seat to order and discipline. It's a necessity IMHO, in order to allow a school to carry out it's primary mission of teaching kids the classic "three R's".

Putting comments out on the web, whether on a blog or social site or a standalone web site, as far as I am concerned, is no different than uttering the words in person. What point does this kind of disrespectful behaior have, other than to disrupt the educational process? And don't give me this "harmless prank" nonsense - accusing a professional of criminal activity online, even if "joking" about it - there's nothing funny about it whatsoever.

I'm neither a lawyer or a teacher, not even a parent, but you can bet I would support a schools suspension of any student who pulls this kind of stunt.

Re:IANAL and IANAT (2, Funny)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106099)

Putting comments out on the web, whether on a blog or social site or a standalone web site, as far as I am concerned, is no different than uttering the words in person.

And that is because you are a blithering idiot.

What point does this kind of disrespectful behaior have, other than to disrupt the educational process?

Free speech needs no point. It includes the freedom to be disrespectful.

Re:IANAL and IANAT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106301)

Hey russotto, my dear chap. I really appreciate the copious amounts of child pornography you have for sale.

Wait a minute (1)

mofag (709856) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105971)

Sorry I didn't read the entire rant but I think I got the actual story which is that a student made unsubstantiated allegations against the principle of her school and he then suspended her from the school.

He could and arguably should have sued her for defamation. I think he took the saner approach of suspending and that its best all-round. With rights come responsibilities. With freedom of expression comes the responsibility to not willfully destroy the reputations (and livelihoods) of innocent people.

A suspension is not an expulsion. The student needs to be thankful the principle is so understanding. If he didn't do something then his job would quickly become untenable.

Nick

Poor packaging (2, Insightful)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 4 years ago | (#25105997)

Judge was dead on right. The summary tries to steer the reader into thinking this is the Man stepping on Free Speech (it's parody, right! You can do or say anything when it's parody!) when it's really some poor guy, not even a public figure, getting publicly slandered by a kid.

Not to add that the era matters: in the 50's the kid could be calling the principal a Communist. These days, if she's hinting he's a sex offender, people are hyper-sensitive to that.

Kid needs to have life explained, in detail, without dessert.

How about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106019)

...not putting anything into print outside of school that you wouldn't say to someone's face at school?

Cowards deserve what they get.

Pfffft. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106021)

The judge was way out of line, and will probably be overruled on appeal.

The school principal was just pissed off because he felt like she called him a pedophile.

Lesson: People get pissed off when you make fun of them, and the courts are rarely fair.

My 2 cents.

Libel/slander (5, Insightful)

Atheose (932144) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106063)

To prove libel/slander, you have to prove three basic things:

1. The accusations are false
2. She knew the accusations were false
3. She had malicious intent

All three seem pretty easy to prove in this case. The girl's lucky the principle isn't suing her. Free speech is great, but kids like this ruin it by spouting off malicious garbage.

Re:Libel/slander (5, Informative)

91degrees (207121) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106107)

You also have to prove that harm has been done.

Re:Libel/slander (2, Insightful)

Atheose (932144) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106167)

Ahh, forgot about that. That would be pretty easy to prove too though; it wouldn't take much to convince a judge/jury that the principle's credibility and image were damaged.

Please Stop (1)

Alaren (682568) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106321)

Whoever is modding these comments up (it's libel, too bad for the girl!) needs to stop.

Please see my comment here [slashdot.org] .

The principal can sue her in his individual capacity for libel and that can play out in the civil courts. That is a completely separate legal analysis from whether she can be expelled; libel is not automatically expulsion-worthy. This isn't like private businesses who can fire you for whatever (in most states). This is a government institution punishing free speech. Which they can do under certain limited circumstances, but these circumstances do not imply an obvious answer as you seem to think. I'm not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, etc.

It is Libel (1)

Fat Wang (1230914) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106139)

If the principal isn't a sex addict that hits on kids then the student is guilty of libel (same as slander, only written). I know this because this happened to me in middle school when I made a website saying crazy stuff about some teachers. The police showed up one day and pulled me out of class. Luckily no teachers wanted to press any charges and I suffered a 3 day out of school suspension. While everything I did never took place in school, the school disciplined me on my actions. I saw this as complete B.S., but at the same time, I would rather have the suspension than get sued outside of school by a teacher if they had lost their job because of something I said.

Honestly Doesn't Bother Me (1)

immcintosh (1089551) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106165)

I'm assuming the things that were on her MySpace page had no factual basis, but...

Free speech is fine and all, but I'm not really sure that's my first concern here. This is just slanderous drivel, and not only that but slanderous drivel that's being published for the entire world to see. I'm not sure if the dumb little twit realized that the things she was publishing about her principal could actually get him in a lot of trouble. Honestly, I think she deserved a suspension and then some.

To me, this isn't about free speech. It's about raising children and punishing them for behaving inappropriately, which is very much in the domain of her school. Maybe that comes from my having gone to a private Catholic school which tend to take more leeway in these matters. People need to be taught to realize that the internet isn't like gossiping to your airhead friend; it's something the entire world can see. Honestly, I think the judge did the right thing, and I'm a serious proponent of free speech.

Do you still believe in "rule of law?" (1)

MindlessAutomata (1282944) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106217)

All right, all together now: I'm not a lawyer, and probably neither are you. But as I've said before, if you put 10 judges in 10 separate rooms and asked them to decide this case (or any other case) independently of each other, you'd be very unlikely to get a consensus anyway. The importance of courts in a civilized society is that they provide a peaceful means of settling disputes, not because we expect that the judges will actually get the "right" answer -- that's why we don't have a crisis of faith in the system every time the Supreme Court splits 5-4. (By contrast, when physicists work on problems involving car safety and satellite trajectories, we do care about them getting the "right" answer, and so physicists are held to a higher standard than judges -- we expect that 9 physicists working on the same problem in separate rooms would all get the same result.) That goes for the rest of us too -- I have no independent confirmation that I'm right, and anyone ranting with supreme confidence that I'm wrong, has no independent confirmation that they're right, either. The best we can do is try to make arguments that are logically consistent, and check that even if they are free of internal contradicions, that they also can't be carried through to an absurd conclusion.

This pretty much illustrates what the law and justice system actually are. The "justice" "system" (it's really neither) is full of contradictory rulings, vague statutes, and all-around bullshit. People are conned into believing in judgments based on "legal principles" because they are given fancy names in Latin; in a relevant example to the article, in loco parentis [jrank.org] (read the article to get a sense just how contradictory and fragmented the system really is) could probably be used to justify suspension or even expulsion of this kid, as it is often used to justify the state enforcing its standards; the state essentially can decide which type of speech or position the student expresses is allowable. I'm sure a school could get away with suspending a student based on that student's belief that, say, drugs should be legal or expressing a political opinion that could be offensive to some people. (This is one of the problems with public schooling, I think--if the state has to draw a line between acceptable and unacceptable speech, then some of that unacceptable speech is going to inevitably "massively unpopular opinion or idea"). And, as an aside, and I'm sure a lot of us nerds that sludged through high school can remember, the administators were often more concerned with how students dressed than with what parents are really supposed to care about, like violence, as the violent bullies never got in trouble. Maybe school administrators see themselves in the bullies...

The Republicans are right when they speak of "activist judges", but not quite in the way they've thought of it. All judges are essentially activists for their own personal political and moral philosophies. A judge isn't going to rule against what he thinks is moral and what is just. Our law system is based on tradition, and yet, is fragmented and contradictory, so a judge can usually look back to previous caselaw and find something to justify what he thinks.

Don't believe me that the system is one big play? Look at history. Look at the many times the Supreme Court has overturned themselves (funny how the words of the constitution essentially don't change, but how the Court's rulings do...) and look at how much attention is given to Supreme Court nominees. Look at FDR trying to pack the Court with sympathizers to the New Deal. Look at the whole issue whether the nominees support Roe v. Wade or not. Look at how many goddamn 5-4 splits there are over the goddamn constitution. Look at how we can call judges "conservative" or "liberal" as if they belong to a sports team and how we describe their past cases as if they were sports games, speaking of their decisions as if they were some great playoff or something.

The system is a farce. I don't have the answer and I doubt there even is a real good one. But to pretend that "justice" has anything to do with law is silly. It's to keep order and that's about it. Don't look to the government or the courts as great virtuous caretakers and certainly don't view them as a place for moral inspiration! Find your own principles, whatever they are, and don't view the government or courts as your friend.

Sorry, you're just wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106245)

I defend these kinds of cases all the time for school districts. The law is that schools may discipline students for off-campus conduct of any type, including speech, if the off-campus conduct is likely to cause disruption on campus. There have been many, many cases involving just this fact pattern: web pages created by students that criticize school officials or employees. In almost every case, especially where the student makes these kinds of scurrilous allegations, the discipline is upheld.

The discipline in this case was easily proper. Calling the principal a child molester is certain to result in disruption on campus.

Do we really want courts examining every disciplinary action that schools take? Do you really believe that students should be able to say this kind of thing about teachers or administrators?

And no, this doesn't mean that there is no "free speech." Anyone is free to say whatever they want -- and required to suffer the civil consequences of what they say.

This analysis ignores the judge's deliberations (2, Informative)

brokeninside (34168) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106333)

The question of whether this was off-campus or on-campus was considered by the judge. In fact the article on Findlaw states:

The MySpace site, Munley said, focused on the principal, and its intended audience was students at the school. A paper copy of the site was brought into school, and the site was discussed in school, he noted, and the picture on the profile was appropriated from the school district's Web site.

What we've got here is a medium (MySpace) that is not only available from on-campus locations, but of which a facsimile was made and brought on to the school campus. If (a) the school blocks MySpace from all on-campus machines and (b) a hard copy of the profile hadn't been brought on to campus, then this story might very well have a different ending.

Too bad we don't have a private system (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106363)

Then we could suspend students for any reason without violating free speech. Yet another reason to use school vouchers.

It's one thing to make a sexual parody of a politician, it's another to make it of school management where the career impact can be severe. There is some magic line where free speech ends and slander begins.

Out of control (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25106375)

Ok this rights thing for kiddies, throw it out now... The forefathers had no clue you'd be this stupid and apply rights to non taxed individuals.... If that six foot four, two hundred pound fourteen year old comes over here with that crow bar I'm whipping his ass Mmmk ? No but really, when was sanity last seen on this issue ? Rights are for responsible individuals, and most of us Adults can barely own up to that... Shut up, sit down, pay attention in class and when you hit eighteen you can die for your country and have rights. PS, I'm not a Neo con, but the Britney spears society that been wrought has to be put down.

Career-threatening, crime-accusing is good fun? (1)

wfolta (603698) | more than 4 years ago | (#25106403)

Gotta pile on the long rant about this case. You don't even have to read all of the case law examinations here, Taco. The kid accused a principal of being a sex offender. That's an extremely serious accusation, especially for someone who no doubt has to submit to background investigations in order to obtain/keep his job.

You can argue all you want that it was "obvious" that the kid was joking or being childish, but exactly how does that save the principal's skin once rumors start and googles go?

Methinks Taco has some serious authority issues. Serious.

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