• Suspension for “sluts” webpage

    Date: 08.15.11 | by Judge Tom.

    A West Virginia high school senior created a MySpace page in 2005 that she called S.A.S.H. It reportedly stood for “Students Against Sluts Herpes” or some claimed that it meant “Students Against Shay’s Herpes.” Kara Kowalski went to Musselman High School when she invited others to join in and comment about classmate Shay N.

    About two dozen students responded by joining the group. One added a photo of Shay to the page. He altered the picture to display red dots on her face, suggesting she had herpes. Hurtful comments were posted over a brief period of time.

    Shay’s parents complained to school officials. Policies existed at Musselman against harassment, bullying and intimidation. The school determined that Kara was responsible for the “hate” web site and violated the school rules. She was suspended from school for five days and banned from extracurricular activities for 90 days.

    Photo by Rhian vK (Flickr)

    Kara and her parents sued the school district. They claimed the discipline violated Kara’s off-campus speech rights. In ruling against her,* the court said that Kara knew that targeting a classmate would result in some form of response at school. The court referred to Kara’s comments as “particularly mean-spirited and hateful.” In upholding the discipline imposed by the school, the court relied on the Tinker material and substantial disruption” test.

    “School administrators are becoming increasingly alarmed by the phenomenon” of harassment and bullying, wrote the court. “Where such speech has a sufficient nexus with the school, the Constitution is not written to hinder school administrators’ good faith efforts to address the problem.”

    You can read the opinion in Kara’s case from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals here.

    Kara filed a petition for review with the U.S. Supreme Court on October 11, 2011. The Court will decide soon whether to accept the case or not. They will also be deciding whether to accept another student speech case in the matter of Avery Doninger v. Niehoff.

    In January, 2012, the Supreme Court declined to hear Kara’s appeal. That means the decision of the lower court remains and that the school’s discipline was not inappropriate or unconstitutional.

    *Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools (Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, July 27, 2011).

    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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    6 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Askthejudge.info
      Mon, 15 Aug 2011 at 06:59

      Court rules that suspension for student's "sluts" MySpace page was appropriate and not a violation of her #freespeech. http://t.co/ES17QaR

    • Askthejudge.info
      Tue, 16 Aug 2011 at 12:42

      New blog post: Suspension for "sluts" webpage – A West Virginia high school senior created a MySpace page in 2005 th… http://t.co/Rqr8Yp2

    • Tulsa Divorce Attorney
      Tue, 16 Aug 2011 at 03:29

      if SASH does not cross the line as articulated in the Tinker standard I do not know what would. Not only is SASH a substantial disruption, it is blatantly offensive.

    • Sierra
      Wed, 17 Aug 2011 at 04:24

      I have a question. Why does this girl’s hateful web page fall under the school’s juristiction? The issue clearly needed to be addressed, but the webpage was developed privately. If the girl set it up on her own time, with a home computer, this doesn’t appear to be the school’s fault. Should the school be held accountable for ALL of the actions of their students in and outside of school? Where should the line be drawn? Should a school’s action or lack thereof against a particular student’s behavior be scruitinized? In this instance? There has to be a system of checks and balances for the school, and the Tinker Standard represents that. But should a student’s behaviour outside of school be the responsibility of the school to manage?
      Dear Sierra: You’re correct about the Tinker standard applying to schools and disruptions on campus. The issue you raise, however, is being debated in courts across the country as we speak. State and federal courts have disagreed about the reach of a school into a student’s bedroom, for example, for acts having an affect on the educational environment. Some have approved the discipline imposed by the school for off-campus online or cell phone posts while other courts have sided with the student under the protections of the First Amendment. It seems that the general rule under Tinker allows discipline when the content of a Facebook or YouTube post constitutes a threat to a classmate or educator, or causes a “substantial disruption” on campus. It won’t be long before the U.S. Supreme Court addresses this issue. See here for such a case that is now pending before the Court: http://www.askthejudge.info/do-you-have-free-speech-rights-online/221/
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Tulsa Divorce
      Wed, 17 Aug 2011 at 09:13

      Sounds to me like she crossed the line.

    • Oklahoma Divorce Lawyer
      Thu, 18 Aug 2011 at 06:20

      I think SASH clearly violates the Tinker standard. I don’t see how a website with a title like that one could not cause a substantial disruption to the educational environment.

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