• Can you be suspended for Internet speech and expression?

    Date: 09.24.07 | by Judge Tom.

    Aaron* was in the 8th grade at Weedsport Middle School in New York.  He designed an AOL Instant Message icon on his parent’s home computer.  It depicted a hand-drawn pistol shooting at a person’s head.  Underneath was the statement “Kill Mr. VanderMolen,” Aaron’s English teacher.

    Aaron was suspended for five days which was approved by the court.  The school’s discipline was determined appropriate since the icon caused some disruption at school and presented a foreseeable risk of harm.  In today’s zero-tolerance atmosphere  at school and in the workplace regarding weapons and threats of violence, it’s crucial to think twice before writing something online that’s questionable or has the potential to do harm to another.  It may be a good idea to run your creative piece by a parent or an adult you trust before sending it out.  Remember www not only stands for the World Wide Web but also the  “Whole World is Watching.”

    Internet speech is a new and developing area of the law. Courts are catching up with technology and sometimes reaching conflicting decisions on these issues. Find out more about free speech rights online.

    Photo by Tim Morgan

    *Wisniewski v. Weedsport Central School District, 2007 WL 1932264 (2007).

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    2 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • me
      Mon, 09 Nov 2009 at 04:40

      That’s a death threat, so ya, that was totally reasonable

    • Emily
      Thu, 05 Feb 2015 at 12:53

      how much trouble can somebody get into for posting a pic of somebody saying “I could f****** kill her” for one day and then deleting it and turning themselves into their Vice Principal?
      Dear Emily: That depends on the Code of Conduct at the school. School’s have the right to discipline students and that includes their behavior online if it disrupts the school in any way. Take a look at your Student Handbook for the rules and consequences regarding online activities that affect classmates and teachers. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

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