Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hot off the presses...Florida Facebook Case Goes Forward

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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3 comments:

  1. Do you see any similarities between that case and this one in Florida?

    Absolutely. In this case the same rights come into question. A matter of free speech on the internet and where those rights end. More over are there different rights in a forum such as this. Other similarities are the disciplinary actions initially taken (not the outcome), though much less severe in this case, and the nature of the suits.

    There are many things that differ which I believe will solidify the outcome of Mrs. Evens (the student) victory. One this was not a malicious site and in no way could be construed as fighting words. This is a case of non threatening speech where the school wanted to clearly make an example of the girl so as to not have this catch on. The problem is this kind of speech does not cause nor does it incite a riot, it does not threaten no defame anyone character.

    Two and the most important, the girls site was only visible to students, meaning it was private. This was not a worldwide thing but a social group created on an invite basis only. Where as the prior precedent in JV case the student had no expectation of privacy in his website, meaning he wanted everyone to see it.

    The school was wrong in this matter and to think that the court will rule in any other way is ridiculous. Today the internet is full of opinionated websites. Take a look at ratemyprofessor.com.

    This site is exactly what this girl did on a much larger scale. With changing media should come change in law interpretation. What was once a discussion about how you can dislike someone is now, by no fault of ones own a global statement. This girl, will have this expunged, win the money and set a precedent for cases like this going forward.

    Just to be clear, I did not say that the case in JV was comparable in this aspect. I mean he made a site about murdering the teacher. Though you are entitled to make a site about anything, porn, KKK, murder, you must not, especially after the school shootings in 1999, threaten this way. Which is why the decision was upheld to expel him.

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  2. 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?

    Yes, I do see some similarities between the J.S v Bethlehem Area School District case and this case. They both deal with the student's right to free speech about their school and teachers. J.S case was more serious, determining if his website was a true threat or not. Katherine Evans's case was less problematic or not as violent,her case was mostly based on her expression/free speech about how she feels about school and teacher, she wasn't making any threats towards her teacher, like posting a cartoon image of her teacher's head cut off with blood dripping and asking for $20 to hire a hit-man, and explaining why her teacher should die. Both students, Evans and J.S were suspended from school, both suing arguing their First Amendment right were being violated, created the site on their own time on their home computer, both vents about their teachers/school, and both took down the site on their own when their school found out.
    This Florida case was less complicated than the J.S Case. Evans created the facebook page 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."
    Her site did not cause a "substantial/actual material disruption" at school and the school community like J.S did, and Ms. Sarah Phelps did not lose sleep, weight, well- being, having anxiety, loss of appetite, headaches,depression, and/or asking the school for a medical sabbatical leave. Evans's school did not have to hire substitutes to replace Ms. Phelps to teach their students, like the Bethlehem Area School had to do.
    Evans's site was a site for students to discuss about how they are feeling, none of the students were making threats. "Some students wrote comments agreeing with Ms. Evans’s criticism of Ms. Phelps. Others offered support for the teacher." It was an opinion site for the students. Like, RICHDEAVER said (above) about rateyourprofessor.com. Students discuss about how professor teach, expectations, and pros and cons on him/her. Evans was not cyberbullying, she was just expressing how she feels, their was not harm being done/disturbing anyone.
    I agree with the the ruling, that Evans had the right to free speech. Like her lawyer said, "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 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.”
    Even though, both of the cases have some similarities, I think both of them were also different in some ways too. Evans case was not causing any harm towards her teacher/school and making threats, as to J.S. site, which was. J.S site seemed more violent, even though his site was not found as a true threat, and if his site was just all a joke and humorous site for his classmates to go to. J.S. site was a disruption and Evans was not, which is probably why she won her case.

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