“My school sucks” may cost you
It is not uncommon for students to criticize their school and the administration. But doing it online may result in unforeseen consequences.
Nicholas Blacconiere was upset with his school in Illinois. He vented against his teachers and classes on Facebook and invited others to join him, saying “Don’t be afraid to post comments on whats going on, this is yor voice too.” (exact quote) He allegedly accused teachers of substandard teaching skills and promiscuity.
The Salon Professional Academy considered his content to be defamatory and sued Nicholas seeking $50,000 in damages and for unauthorized use of their logo. The legal issue to be decided regards free speech and its limits. Similar cases across the country have led to mixed rulings from the courts.
Avery Doninger referred to her school administration as “douchebags” on her blog and was prevented from running for class office. In 2008, the court ruled against Avery and her free speech challenge finally ended on October 31, 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review her case.
Justin Layshock created a fake MySpace profile of the school principal. He was suspended for ten days and transferred to an alternative program. The court ruled for Justin saying his off-campus speech was protected under the First Amendment. The school district appealed the lower court’s decision, and on February 4, 2010, the appellate court ruled against the school, leaving the outcome in Justin’s favor. Then the court vacated the decision and set it for a hearing before the full court in June, 2010. In June, 2011, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Justin’s favor finding that his speech was protected and should not have been punished by the school. You can read about the decision here.
Ian Lake was 16 when he created a critical web site about his teachers and principal. He made references to sexual behavior and drugs. He was arrested and charged with criminal libel. He spent seven days in juvenile detention before the charge was dismissed on constitutional grounds.
Justin Swidler was in the 8th grade when he created a web site called “Teacher Sux.” He made degrading comments against a teacher and the principal. He was expelled from the school district and lost his case in court due to the disruption his site caused at school.
Zachariah Paul sent out an email with his Top Ten list that criticized the school’s athletic director. He was suspended for ten days. He sued the school for violating his free speech and the case was settled out-of-court. Zach returned to school and agreed not to repeat his behavior.
So what do you think of these cases? Is there a difference between criticizing others in a conversation and writing it online? Should you be allowed to say anything at anytime against anyone? Or are some people off limits? Does it matter whether your comments are true or false?