In this morning's class we discussed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision in J.S. v Bethlehem Area School District. JS sued the school district that expelled him for a nasty website he created off campus, saying his First Amendment rights were violated.
Do you see any similarities between that case and this one in Florida? If so, what are they? If you had to speculate, what will the court do in this case?
Student Suspended for Facebook Page Can Sue
February 15, 2010 The New York Times
MIAMI — A South Florida teenager who sued her former principal after she was suspended for creating a Facebook page criticizing a teacher can proceed with her lawsuit, a federal judge has ruled.
The student, Katherine Evans, is seeking to have her suspension expunged from her disciplinary record. School officials suspended her for three days, saying she had been “cyberbullying” the teacher, Sarah Phelps. Ms. Evans is also seeking a “nominal fee” for what she argues was a violation of her First Amendment rights, her lawyers said, and payment of her legal fees.
The former principal, Peter Bayer, who worked at the Pembroke Pines Charter High School, had asked that the case be dismissed. But Magistrate Judge Barry L. Garber denied Mr. Bayer’s petition and rejected his claims of qualified immunity.
Lawyers for Ms. Evans, 19, now a sophomore at the University of Florida, said that they were pleased by the ruling and that they hoped to bring the case to trial in the spring.
One of the lawyers, Maria Kayanan, associate legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the judge’s decision had clearly extended the protection of First Amendment rights to online writings of a nonthreatening manner.
“This is an important victory both for Ms. Evans and Internet free speech,” Ms. Kayanan said, “because it upholds the principle that the right to freedom of speech and expression in America does not depend on the technology used to convey opinions and ideas.”
Ms. Evans would not comment on the judge’s ruling. Efforts to reach Mr. Bayer or officials at the high school were unsuccessful.
Ms. Evans’s suspension first came to the attention of the civil liberties union in 2007. Then a high school senior and an honor student, Ms. Evans repeatedly clashed with Ms. Phelps, her English teacher, over assignments, Ms. Evans has said.
She turned to Facebook to vent her frustration. At home on her computer, Ms. Evans created a Facebook page titled “Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever had” and invited past and current students of Ms. Phelps to post their own comments.
Some students wrote comments agreeing with Ms. Evans’s criticism of Ms. Phelps. Others offered support for the teacher. After a few days, Ms. Evans took down the Facebook page.
Two months later, Ms. Evans says, she was called into the principal’s office and told she was being suspended for creating the page.
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