• Is it a crime to swear at a school principal?

    Date: 03.04.10 | by Judge Tom.

    At an evening forum for parents and students in September, 2009, Cindy Schwalb spoke her mind. She was upset at the school’s handling of a “pantsing” trend going on at Hasbrouck Heights Middle School. Cindy’s 13 year old daughter had her sweatpants pulled down by a boy.

    Cindy Schwalb (Facebook)

    During the forum, Cindy cursed at the principal. She was charged with disorderly conduct and appeared in court in January, 2010. She pleaded not guilty and faces a maximum of 90 days in jail and a fine. School officials and the prosecutor are taking the unusual step in prosecuting her to show that people can’t call school principals vulgar names. Adults as well as students are bound to follow the law – it should be applied equally to all offenders.

    “Disorderly conduct” is generally defined as disturbing the peace of another, unruly conduct or behaving in a disruptive manner. Someone who knowingly, intentionally or recklessly engages in fighting, making unreasonable noise after being warned, or disrupts a lawful assembly may be charged with disorderly conduct.

    In January, 2011, the Arizona Supreme Court overturned the delinquency finding of a teenager who insulted his teacher in class. He called her a “stupid bitch” and a “f______ bitch.” He was given a 10-day suspension and found guilty of abusing a teacher, a misdemeanor. He appealed his adjudication and the court reversed the decision stating that “We do not believe that his insults would likely have provoked an ordinary teacher to exchange fisticuffs with the student or to otherwise react violently.” The court based its decision on the U.S. Supreme Court’s analysis of “fighting words” – those words that would provoke an immediate violent reaction from the target of the speech. The school’s discipline was appropriate, but the delinquency finding couldn’t stand.

    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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    • Linda Neely
      Sat, 13 Mar 2010 at 03:06

      Somewhere in the South, I want to say Louisana? a man was charged at a public meeting of the town and swore at the mayor, he was charged, spent time in county and was ordered to pay a fine. The next level of court found him not guilty under freedom of speech, that the disruption was caused by the mayor having him arrested, not his speech. The point being that you have the right of freedom of speech. They never define disruption. This is also probably is challengeable as specifics are left out of what constituets disruptive. If I make you unhappy was I disruptive? If I proved you were in the wrong, am I disruptive?
      Thanks for your thoughts, Linda.