• “Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever met”

    Date: 12.10.08 | by Judge Tom.

    Student states her mind on Facebook

    Is the above quote (the title of this post) about Sarah Phelps enough to get you suspended from school?  17-year-old Katherine Evans went to Pembroke Pines Charter School in Florida.  In November, 2007, the senior honors student was upset with her Advanced Placement English teacher and posted the above quote on her Facebook page.

    She also added a photo taken from the school’s yearbook.  She referred to her teacher’s ”insane antics” and asked others to express their “feelings of hatred” by adding their own comments.

    Only three students contributed their thoughts – all in favor of Ms. Phelps.  Two days later, Katherine voluntarily shut the site down.  Ms. Phelps didn’t see the site and Katherine remained in her class for the rest of the semester.

    facebook

    Photo by Spencer E. Holtaway

    Suspended for Facebook Comments

    Two months after shutting it down, Katherine was given a three-day suspension by the principal for cyberbullying and harassment.  She was pulled from her AP classes but graduated on time.  Katherine now attends college at the University of Florida.

    Worried about Suspension Record, Katherine Files Lawsuit

    In December, 2008, Katherine filed a lawsuit against the principal for violating her right to free speech.  She is concerned about job applications and admission to graduate school.  Being designated a “cyberbully” in her school records might have an effect on her future.

    What do you think?  Were Katherine’s comments about her teacher protected speech? Or were they so offensive that suspension and a disciplinary note in her permanent record were justified?

    Update:  In February, 2010, a federal court denied the school’s motion to dismiss the case and granted the principal qualified immunity from the suit.  This means her lawsuit is allowed to continue against the principal.  According to her lawyer, Katherine is not looking to get rich off the school district.  She simply wants her record cleared.  ”This case is not about money,” Matthew Bavaro said, “We are only seeking nominal, token damages. Maybe $100.00.  Some token amount to show that her rights were violated.”

    Katie Evans

    In December, 2010, Katie’s lawsuit was settled.  She was awarded $1.00 in nominal damages (she didn’t sue for the money) and $15,000 in attorney fees.  More importantly, she won a clear record – the school agreed to expunge all mention of the incident from her official records. The Tinker test was the basis of the decision to protect Katie’s online speech. As the federal judge stated, “the facts are such that under any form of the Tinker test, Evans’s actions cannot be construed as even remotely disruptive.”

    Take a look at “You and the Internet” on this site for more Internet and cell phone cases involving  teens.

    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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    10 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Rich
      Tue, 20 Oct 2009 at 01:18

      You know back when I was in school there was a saying that every teacher and parent knew of and refereed to “Stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. In my opinion these people that are complaining about what is on the internet aren’t taking their own advice. Not everything on the internet is true and if you believe everything then your just way to gullible and very uneducated. There isn’t a day that passes that I’m not threaten or told I’m going to die somewhere online. And you don’t see me suing everyone that try’s to hurt my feelings. If that was the case then everyone in the world would have a case against them. Come on people seriously your just sad and a poor excuse for a human being trying to take someones first amendment. Whats stopping you from posting a comment on that page saying that the information here is untrue. Or better yet makeing your own facebook page.

    • Kim
      Sun, 08 Nov 2009 at 10:58

      Hey RICH, if you knew how to read the school didn’t sue Katherine, she sued them.

    • dupont
      Wed, 17 Feb 2010 at 09:56

      You think spreading false rumors (made of words) about someone or some people does not hurt?Check nazi propaganda/literature (made of words) about non-aryan people and what it leads to or more recently the governement´s propaganda(made of words) in Rwanda against the hutis tribe that precede the genocide.
      False testimony(made of words)that lead an innocent man to the death sentence.
      Disinformations(made of words)that lead people to consume harmful stuff like cigarettes,for instance.
      Dear Dupont: Thank you for your comments.

    • Sara
      Wed, 17 Feb 2010 at 11:32

      It’s one thing to write a status message about not liking a teacher on your own personal Facebook or website, but it’s another thing to create an entire account dedicated to why this teacher is the worst teacher ever. This girl was supposedly an honor student, and, quite frankly, I think the way she acted was utterly immature. I would be cautious of accepting her into a grad school or hiring her into a job if this is how she acts. Just because she had the freedom of speech, doesn’t make what she did right, or even acceptable. Not only is the student going to have this story attached to her background for life, she also put her teacher’s reputation on the line. There was NO reason for her to use her teacher’s first and last name. Sure the student had her freedom of speech, but she completely abused it and, to me, used it in a way to harass her teacher, especially since she used the teacher’s full name. That was completely uncalled for. I think Ms. Evan needs to grow up.
      Dear Sara: Thank you for your comments.

    • john akers
      Wed, 17 Feb 2010 at 12:44

      You can talk trash about the president, and its freedom of speech , but you trash a teacher and you get in trouble, Wow…..

    • Harrison
      Thu, 18 Feb 2010 at 08:07

      I hope Ms. Evans continues to speak her mind. Funny how little Ms. Phelps needs to use the term “cyberbullying” to attract attention. If a honor student (i.e. someone that actually CARES about school) feels Phelps is a poor teacher, then she probably is. Some kid failing out of school making similar claims probably wouldn’t get much credibility.

    • Snoop Dog
      Fri, 19 Feb 2010 at 04:15

      Does anyone take into account why she wrote it. All of the attention is on the principal and the teacher. Has anyone taken into account the student’s character in this case? She obviously wrote this rant because of something that happened in that teacher’s class that she didn’t like. Sounds like a big brat to me!

      Also, don’t you think that trash talking a teacher on a website open for all to view would cause the classroom environment in the class to be disruptive? No wonder why the student was removed from the class. Of course action should have been taken against the student. She disrupted the school environment by slandering a teacher who is just trying doing her job, which is the toughest job in America! Kids these days need to grow up and respect their teachers whether they think that teacher is fair or not. There is a right way to go about doing things, and obviously she didn’t handle it the right way.
      Dear Snoop: Thank you for your comments.

    • skyler patenaude
      Thu, 15 Apr 2010 at 11:57

      YOU ALL ARE WRONG… she can hate and post what ever she wants because its her profile and her feelings. if that teacher thinks other wise then why don’t we take her out of every class that she has a student she hates in.

    • Dan
      Sun, 09 May 2010 at 07:53

      I made a fanpage for a teacher- not talking bad stuff, just a fan page. For various reason, in school we joke around about him being a vampire, but not with bad intentions, and the teacher himself partakes in the humor. I refrenced this on the fan page (that he is a vampire.) After reading this article, however, I became genuinely worried. Is what I did considered slander? Could I get in trouble?
      Dear Dan: Under the laws of your state, and depending on what exactly you said on the Internet, it may be slanderous. If you’re not sure whether you crossed the line or not, it might be better to remove it rather than risk unforeseen consequences. It’s good that you asked and are concerned. All the best.
      [This is information only - not legal advice].

    • Rick
      Sat, 23 Jun 2012 at 09:31

      This girl should face the consequences for her actions. Freedom of speech is one thing, but it is obvious that she intended to do tremendous harm to this teacher. Shame on her!

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