Home > Facebook, Katherine Evans, Sarah Phelps, Tinker v. Des Moines > Student’s Free Speech Rights Infringed Upon by School District Over Facebook Group

Student’s Free Speech Rights Infringed Upon by School District Over Facebook Group

December 11, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

It’s apparently a busy time for online civil rights issues:

Student Who Created Facebook Group Critical of Teacher Sues High School Over Suspension
By David Kravets | December 09, 2008 | Wired.com

“Katherine Evans, a former Florida high school student who was disciplined for “cyberbullying” a teacher on Facebook, is suing the school principal on allegations of violating her free speech rights. […] The lawsuit, filed Monday in a Florida federal court, concerns Katherine Evans, now 19, who was suspended as a senior last year after creating a Facebook group devoted to her English teacher. The group was called “Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever met!,” and featured a photograph of the teacher, and an invitation for other students to “express your feelings of hatred.” After people’s comments derided Evans for the online stunt, and expressed support for the teacher, she deleted the group. But Pembroke Pines Charter High School, which did not respond for comment, suspended Evans for three days for “disruptive behavior” and for “Bullying / Cyber Bullying Harassment towards a staff member,” according to the lawsuit, which is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Evans was removed from her from advanced placement classes “and forced her into the lesser-weighted honors classes.” The lawsuit alleges the black mark on Evans’ permanent record is “unjustifiably straining her academic reputation and good standing.” [Source…]

The school is totally in the wrong on this; it’s a clear violation of the precedent set forth in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (and likely other precedents, though the school might try to argue it’s protected by Morse v. Frederick which would be illegitimate since it’s not illegal to say you don’t like someone AND it wasn’t done during a school-supervised event). Students have free speech rights – and the fact that this group was created out in the ether of the Internet and not scrawled on a bathroom wall or passed out in a flyer on school grounds even further undermines the school district’s already-weak case against Evans. Teachers are just going to have to grow thicker skins.

She didn’t make any libellous comments, and she was expressing a genuine opinion using her real identity (which eliminates the possibility that she would even be violating the absurdly-strict [unconstitutional, and unenforceable] provisions of the “Violence Against Women and Justice Department Reauthorization Act of 2005“).

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