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Judge Munley is So Out of My Top 8 791

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the surprised-he-was-there-in-the-first-place dept.
Frequent Slashdot Contributor Bennett Haselton writes "A federal judge has ruled that a school district didn't violate a student's free speech rights when it suspended her for a parody MySpace page she created calling her principal a sex addict who "hits on students". In the ruling, Judge James M. Munley made the curious argument that if the case involves a student publishing lewd and offensive speech outside of school on their own time, then the proper precedent-setting cases to look to, are cases involving students making offensive statements in school during school hours, not cases involving students making less-offensive statements outside of school on their own time. In other words, if you can't find prior caselaw where all of the factors are the same, then the lewd-speech issue is more significant than the issue of whether the speech was made in or out of school." Hit that magical link below to read the rest of these words.

Apart from the politics of minors' free speech rights in general, I think there are at least three logical problems with the ruling. The first is the judge's argument that even though on-campus speech and off-campus speech are separate, if the off-campus speech is offensive enough, that elevates it to the point of giving the school jurisdiction over it. The second is the judge's comparison between a student's parody MySpace page, and the mock-threatening rap lyrics that got a student expelled in another court case -- a court ruled that the school overstepped their bounds by expelling the student for the rap song, but Judge Munley said that a MySpace page jokingly calling the principal a "sex addict" was actually more offensive than the violent rap lyrics. The third is the argument that because the student's conduct was so offensive that it could have theoretically been criminally punished if the principal took her to court, that made it acceptable for the school to take the easier route of suspending her.

All right, all together now: I'm not a lawyer, and probably neither are you. But as I've said before, if you put 10 judges in 10 separate rooms and asked them to decide this case (or any other case) independently of each other, you'd be very unlikely to get a consensus anyway. The importance of courts in a civilized society is that they provide a peaceful means of settling disputes, not because we expect that the judges will actually get the "right" answer -- that's why we don't have a crisis of faith in the system every time the Supreme Court splits 5-4. (By contrast, when physicists work on problems involving car safety and satellite trajectories, we do care about them getting the "right" answer, and so physicists are held to a higher standard than judges -- we expect that 9 physicists working on the same problem in separate rooms would all get the same result.) That goes for the rest of us too -- I have no independent confirmation that I'm right, and anyone ranting with supreme confidence that I'm wrong, has no independent confirmation that they're right, either. The best we can do is try to make arguments that are logically consistent, and check that even if they are free of internal contradicions, that they also can't be carried through to an absurd conclusion.

To wit: Judge Munley's decision cites four prior cases that involved students making offensive or disruptive speech (although still not as offensive as the MySpace page in this case calling the principal a pedophile) while on school property or at school events: Bethel School Dist v. Fraser, Hazlewood Sch. Dist. v. Kuhlmeier, Morse v. Frederick, and Klein v. Smith. In those cases, the courts ruled that the discipline did not violate the students' rights because the students were at school events or on campus when they made the statements at issue. Judge Munley then cites another list of cases in which students published speech that was generally more offensive than the incidents in the first list, but did it on their own time, away from school: Flaherty v. Keystone Oaks Sch. Dist., Latour v. Riverside Beaver Sch. Dist., Killion v. Franklin Regaional Sch. Dist., and Layshock v. Hermitage Sch. Dist. In all of these cases, the courts ruled that the school districts violated the students' rights by punishing them for off-campus speech. So far, all eight of these cases cited by Munley, followed the rule: on-campus or school-affiliated speech is punishable, off-campus speech is not. (Munley cites only one case that was an exception to this rule: Fenton v. Stear, in which the court upheld the punishment of a student who was off campus when he loudly referred to a teacher as a "prick.")

But then, Judge Munley argues more or less that the speech in this case is so offensive (calling the principal a sex addict and a pedophile), that you're allowed to lift it out of the category of off-campus speech and treat it by analogy to earlier cases involving on-campus speech. Munley wrote:

In the instant case, there can be no doubt that the speech used is vulgar and lewd. The profile contains words such as "fucking," "bitch," "fagass," "dick," "tight ass," and "dick head." The speech does not make any type of political statement. It is merely an attack on the school's principal. It makes him out to be a pedophile and sex addict. This speech is not the Tinker silent political protest. It is more akin to the lewd and vulgar speech addressed in Fraser. It is also akin to the speech that promoted illegal actions in the Morse case.

The content itself is "akin" to the offensive speech in the earlier cases, but what difference does that make, if the speech didn't take place in school? Getting back to first principles: Why does the First Amendment generally grant the freedom to call people "dick" and "tight ass"? Because it doesn't hurt anyone except to the extent that it hurts their feelings, and you don't have a right to unhurt feelings. Because the remarks can be made in the context of general legitimate criticism of someone, which might motivate them to change the behavior that led someone to call them a "tight ass" in the first place. Once these premises are accepted, it doesn't matter if you ratchet up the offensiveness from calling someone a "dick" to calling them a "fucking dick." It does change the analysis if you move the speech to a different setting, e.g. standing up in class when people are trying to learn, and shouting that the principal is a "fucking dick." But that's not what this student was doing.

After all, if the regulation of off-campus speech were justified in order to prevent harm or embarrassment to the principal, carry that through to its logical conclusion: Suppose a former student, who had since graduated, created the parody MySpace page and e-mailed it to friends at the school. The school's "interest" in preserving order and protecting the principal's reputation, would be exactly the same -- and yet no court has ever suggested that the government can punish a former student for speech outside of school (unless the speech rises to the level of threats or libel, which anyone can be punished for, regardless of the former student-principal relationship). To be punished, the former student would have to bring the speech into the school, where it could cause a disruption (and where, as a non-student, they could be banned from the premises anyway).

As for the second problem, apart from the issue of whether offensiveness alone is enough to give the school the right to punish a student for off-campus speech, there is the question of what criteria Judge Munley used to determine that the MySpace page was more offensive than the student off-campus speech in previous cases. In Latour v. Riverside Beaver Sch. Dist. , the court found that a student's rap lyrics which made mock threats toward another student, identified by name, could not be treated as a true threat because they were the kind of boastful posturing that rappers are known for (apparently including the ones in junior high school these days). Similarly, the MySpace page created in this case, began with the words:

yes. It's your oh so wonderful, hairy,
expressionless, sex addict, fagass, put on this world
with a small dick PRINCIPAL

and hopefully the principal would agree that any reasonable reader would know this was not written by him. So if the content of the speech in both cases was clearly not meant to be taken seriously, a fair apples-to-apples comparison would be to ask which is the more offensive topic: violence, or a joke about a principal listing among his "interests": "detention, being a tight ass, riding the fraintrain, spending time with my child (who looks like a gorilla), baseball, my golden pen, fucking in my office, hitting on students and their parents"?

What Judge Munley seems to be saying is that joking about murder is more acceptable than joking about a principal hitting on students. While I think this is absurd and offensive to victims of violence, I have to admit that this is at least consistent with standards of censorship in the U.S. It's a tired old complaint, but it's never been satisfactorily answered: Why can you show a character being killed on television, but a sex act is taboo? Why are the most offensive swear words derived from sex acts and sex organs, but there are no equivalent words for murder that are banned from the airwaves? What's worse?

Third, the judge seemed to adopt the position that because the student could theoretically have been prosecuted for creating the fake MySpace profile, that made it acceptable for the school to impose a milder punishment that circumvented the court system. Judge Munley wrote:

The speech at issue here could have been the basis for criminal charges against J.S. Additionally, the state police indicated to McGonigle that he could press harassment charges based upon the imposter profile. (Dep. McG, 98- 99). McGonigle indicated that he would not press charges, but asked the police officer to contact the students involved and their parents to inform them of the seriousness of the situation. (Dep. McG at 99, 163-64). The officer summoned the students and their parents to the state police station and discussed the seriousness of the profile and that McGonigle would not press charges.

It's at least debatable whether the MySpace page, which was an obvious parody, could have been the basis for criminal charges. But suppose we grant the judge that point. In that case, even if we know that someone's actions would have gotten them a more severe punishment from the courts, is it acceptable to give them a lighter punishment for something else, just because that's simpler for the school?

No. First, because it fosters disrespect for the rule of law in general: If you committed X, then you should be punished for X, according to the rules set up for punishing X. When Judge Jackie Glass began O.J. Simpson's trial this month for robbing two men at gunpoint, she told jurors: "If you think you are going to punish Mr Simpson for what happened in 1995, this is not the case for you." She, like most sentient beings, probably believed privately that O.J. committed the murders in 1994, but she knew the rule of law was more important than the outcome of any one case, even a murder trial. Second, lighter punishments (such as a suspension from school) often come with a lower standard of judicial review, so you could end up getting an undeserved punishment, in cases where a proper trial for the actual crime at issue might have found that you should not have been punished at all. (Al Capone did get put away for tax evasion, but the court found that he was in fact guilty of tax evasion -- they weren't reaching that as a compromise to avoid trying him for his crimes as a gangster.)

To come clean, however, I have to admit that I have tried to egg judges down that route occasionally. I've taken spammers to court and gotten them to say, under oath, that they never sent any spam and didn't know what I was talking about, before I revealed a tape-recording of a conversation (recorded legally) in which they offered to send 5 million pieces of spam for $500, that the spams were routed out through a server in China to help defeat spam filters, etc. The idea was that the judge would get pissed at the spammer for committing perjury, but realize that it would be too much paperwork to prosecute that, so just bang them over the head with a thousand-dollar judgment for spamming, which would go to me. Unfortunately this can backfire if the judge is so opposed to anti-spam suits that no amount of evidence will convince them anyway. But even if it had worked, it would not be strictly correct to say that justice had been done -- perjury should be punished as perjury, even if only with a slap on the wrist.

So, I'm sure that Judge Munley was trying in his own way to do the right thing by preserving order in the school system, but he probably decided in advance what conclusion to reach, and came up with the arguments after the fact. Still, it may not be a loss for student rights in the long run. The ACLU, which represented the student, has not said whether they will appeal, and anyway, virtually all other caselaw so far has said that student speech off campus is protected, as Judge Munley himself pointed out.

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Judge Munley is So Out of My Top 8

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:15PM (#25105735)

    Better for the kid to learn now that "free speech" is (and always has been) a crock of shit in the U.S. It's just one of those terms that we throw around to make ourselves feel superior to other countries. But when you take even the most cursory look at it, you realize it's as hollow as a reed. "The right to free speech" in reality translates to "The right to conventional, relatively non-controversial speech in a setting that will not upset anyone or be particularly noticed by anyone who might be offended or threatened by said speech." The second you attempt to break out of any one of those tight boundaries, you WILL find yourself in jail/kicked out of school/fired/persecuted or in some way silenced or punished.

    That kid just learned one of the most important lessons in life: That what people SAY and CLAIM has little to do with what they DO and how they actually ACT. And that goes for the government, politicians, and just about everyone else. Just because some civics class says you have "the right to free speech" does not mean that you can actually ever speak freely in any real world environment without fear of persecution.

    Consider it the first of many disillusioning life lessons, kid.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:20PM (#25105827)

      Wow, I feel dumber for having read your response ...

      "Free Speech" doesn't mean that you get to say whatever you want to say all the time without consequences. Realistically, what was the worse outcome, being suspended for a couple of days or having the principle sue her and her parents for slandering him?

      • by tha_mink (518151) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:30PM (#25106017)

        "Free Speech" doesn't mean that you get to say whatever you want to say all the time without consequences. Realistically, what was the worse outcome, being suspended for a couple of days or having the principle sue her and her parents for slandering him?

        Not only that, but the student only got suspended. I didn't find anything to support the claim that the student doesn't still maintain the right to keep the myspace page up. So she still has the right to free speech, and also the right to suffer the consequences for he actions. Do you think it would be a violation of your free speech rights if you got fired for putting a myspace page up with slander or libel about your boss?

        • by evanbd (210358) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:50PM (#25106371)
          The courts have long held that school is different from work, and that you do not give up your rights merely by being a student. Partly this is because school is not a voluntary thing on the part of the student. Also, the school district is acting on behalf of the government, which is distinct from a private employer. The fact that she has the ability to continue publishing, but be punished for it, does not mean that the punishment isn't an infringement of her right to free speech.
        • by enderjsv (1128541) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:53PM (#25106445)
          Well, no, but free speech doesn't apply to employee-employer relationships. It applies to citizen-government relationships. Your argument makes as much sense as those kids who cry "free speech violation" when they get kicked out of an online forum for making fun of the moderator's mom.
          • by Darinbob (1142669) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:06PM (#25106643)

            I'm a bit disappointed at the lengthy "how dare they rule against my own common sense" summary. People need to learn what free speech is really all about and what it means for democracy. Free speech is an ideal because it is about political speech and the right of dissent and freedom from government censorship. Free speech is not a right for minors to be lewd.

            The student should be lucky she was only suspended, rather than being sued for defamation.

            • by jahudabudy (714731) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:21PM (#25106919)
              Free speech is an ideal because it is about political speech and the right of dissent and freedom from government censorship. Free speech is not a right for minors to be lewd.

              But the school (assuming it is public), is an agent of the government. So the school punishing the minor for being lewd is government censorship. So if free speech is about freedom from government censorship, then it is/should be a right for minors to be lewd. As far as the government is concerned, at any rate. Kid's mom ought to smack him around for that filth, but that's entirely different.
            • The student should be lucky she was only suspended, rather than being sued for defamation.

              But I think that's what 'common sense' is asking. This is a civil matter, not a school disciplinary one. If the principal is so adamant for punishment, his principle's should have guided him to a civil suit, which IMHO, he would have won. If the student is doing something out of school, that ought to indicate where the remedy should be found.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Alsee (515537)

              Free speech is an ideal because it is about political speech and the right of dissent

              No.

              Correction, hell FUCKING no. I'm going to take the liberty to cut loose with crude offensive language while I proceed with vitally important political speech.

              You, and the people who modded you up, are exactly the authoritarian puritanical asshats proudly trying to march this country forward into the 12th century.

              Free Speech is about the fact that ideas do not break your leg or pick your pocket. Free Speech is about the f

          • by unassimilatible (225662) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:57PM (#25107639) Journal
            Contrary to submitter's logic, this case wasn't decided the way it was to protect someone's feelings.

            In fact, all the cases cited in opposition to Judge Munley's decision make it clear that to maintain order in a school environment, the students just can't say "fuck you" to a teacher or principal. The on-campus/off-campus distinction might have made clear sense in Tinker (1969), but now that every student has Internet access and a Myspace page makes it a lot more possible to create a serious disruption off-campus that spills into the school.

            I'm big on free speech, but I also know that kids need boundaries and guidance as to how to behave in civilization. Left to their own devices, it would be Lord of the Flies.

            I went to parochial school and knew I'd be thrown out if I did something off campus that disrespected the school or administrators. That students should be able to embarrass, harass, or defame school officials merely because taxpayers fund their school seems curious. The idea that the Constitution even applies to this taxpayer-funded service should be questioned. So my tax dollars should fund a very expensive service for some ungrateful, disobedient little shit who wants to disrespect said service (and taxpayer)?

            Public education should be a privilege, not a right. Then maybe more so-called "students" would appreciate it, and student success rates would be better.

            Just another reason my kids will go to private school.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Repossessed (1117929)

              The on-campus/off-campus distinction might have made clear sense in Tinker (1969), but now that every student has Internet access and a Myspace page makes it a lot more possible to create a serious disruption off-campus that spills into the school.

              So basically, because of the internet, we should suspend freedom of speech? For that matter, how many schools are there that don't block Myspace on the internal network? Mine certainly did (assuming you didn't just turn the filter off, didn't even ened proxies back then)

              Here's a better question, why should the principal get *more* protection simply because of his job? He has the same ability to sue for libel as anyone else, and if the student had been slandering me I wouldn't have had any special ability

        • by McBeer (714119) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:17PM (#25106869) Homepage

          Do you think it would be a violation of your free speech rights if you got fired for putting a myspace page up with slander or libel about your boss?

          At the risk of nitpicking:
          Libel is the written act of defamation. Slander is the oral act of defamation. The MySpace page almost certainly contained only libel. (Unless the student recorded herself and posted that.)

    • by crath (80215) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:24PM (#25105889) Homepage

      What catches my attention is that the student didn't merely call the principle names, but also accused the principle of engaging in a felony (chile abuse; aka "hitting on kids"). It is never "free speech" to accuse someone of a crime; especially, as is now the case in our society, a crime where society consistently considers the accused to be guilty until proven innocent.

      • by Hatta (162192) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:49PM (#25106359) Journal

        If the child engaged in criminal libel or slander, prosecute him for that. No school official should have any jurisdiction over anything that happens out of the regular boundaries of school activities.

        • by JesseMcDonald (536341) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:03PM (#25106601) Homepage

          The penalty was a suspension. The school has every right to refuse access to anyone, on any grounds -- although, if they wish to pursue that path, it should be recognized that those funding the school also have every right to simply keep their money.

          If they were trying to fine the students, or jail them, or even just imposing community service, then I would also consider their actions insufficient to warrant such punishment -- speech of any sort should never be sufficient justification for legal repercussions. The proposed repercussions aren't legal, however; the school is simply refusing service to a pair of unruly customers. If you're going to prosecute the school for something, I suggest starting with the way they coerce funds out of everyone in the surrounding area. That's the real crime.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Hatta (162192)

            The school has every right to refuse access to anyone, on any grounds

            No they don't. Everyone has a right to a public education in this country.

            If they were trying to fine the students, or jail them, or even just imposing community service, then I would also consider their actions insufficient to warrant such punishment -- speech of any sort should never be sufficient justification for legal repercussions.

            Libel and slander are illegal, and for good reason. What this kid did was libel, and should be handled

            • by ClassMyAss (976281) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:36PM (#25107233) Homepage

              Libel and slander are illegal, and for good reason. What this kid did was libel, and should be handled through the court system.

              I think that's questionable. By my reading, it sounds like the page in question was an obvious joke. Read the quote FTFA:

              The profile did not use McGonigle's name, but identified the person pictured as a "principal," and described him as a 40-year-old married, bisexual man whose interests included "being a tight ass," "fucking in my office" and "hitting on students and their parents," according to Munley's opinion.

              That doesn't sound like an accusation to me, it sounds like a stupid joke. And based on a quick googling, it seems that libel cases have been dismissed [gannett.com] "because the item could not be reasonably understood as stating actual facts" - I think an adolescent Myspace page would probably qualify as something nobody in their right mind would believe, especially if it was claiming that the principal's hobbies included "being a tight ass."

              Then again, IANAL, so I don't know. But if I had to guess, I'd guess that most judges would not want to waste their time on a case like this if it was brought as a libel suit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by evanbd (210358)
        What society thinks of a crime has no legal bearing on whether accusing someone of it is libel. If the principle wished to accuse the student of libel, there are courts available to heard that accusation -- the fact that the principle could possibly have brought a libel case does not give them the right to act as a vigilante.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I normally wouldn't disagree, but in re-reading the summary this gem has me thinking differently, "In Latour v. Riverside Beaver Sch. Dist. , the court found that a student's rap lyrics which made mock threats toward another student, identified by name, could not be treated as a true threat because they were the kind of boastful posturing that rappers are known for (apparently including the ones in junior high school these days)". Apparently rappers' free speech is different...I had no idea it has worked
    • by jellomizer (103300) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:25PM (#25105907)

      No we have the right for controversial speech. We don't have the right to personally attack people without good evidence to back it up. Free Speech has a limit when you use it to Harm someone(s).

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        What is harm"? A weasel word if I ever heard one. Namecalling? Poopiehead buttsniffer!

        But seriously, and before anyone makes it, there's a difference between that tired old "shouting fire in a crowded theater" analogy" and telling someone they smell like an elephant's butt. It's true people are affected by the things other's say, but it's nearly impossible to know how they will really react to it. I know if I cut you you'll bleed; I don't know that if I said you smelled like rancid turnips you'd go kil

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by isBandGeek() (1369017)

      "The right to free speech" in reality translates to "The right to conventional, relatively non-controversial speech in a setting that will not upset anyone or be particularly noticed by anyone who might be offended or threatened by said speech." The second you attempt to break out of any one of those tight boundaries, you WILL find yourself in jail/kicked out of school/fired/persecuted or in some way silenced or punished.

      The right to free speech does not include the right to libel anyone.

      But this being the Internet, I think the valuable "life lesson" that the kid should have learned is that she should have been more careful in covering her own tracks.

      • by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:37PM (#25106123)

        If I were to call you a motherfucking dumbass, cock-licking asswipe, I'd be legal and in the clear, as they represent opinions.

        However, if I were to call you a pedophile kiddie-diddler anal-raper, I'd be breaking heavy libel laws, as those are legal devices only found as such in a court room under "Guilty".

        It's the same reason why Rosie O'Donnell could have gotten in a lawsuit with Donald Trump. She said that he went bankrupt. He filed no bankruptcy proceeding. Because bankruptcy is a legal device, and she was falsely claiming it, she was breaking slander, in that case (was on TV when she said it: library-books-libel)

    • by QZTR (1351145) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:27PM (#25105951)

      "The right to free speech" in reality translates to "The right to conventional, relatively non-controversial speech in a setting that will not upset anyone or be particularly noticed by anyone who might be offended or threatened by said speech."

      Uh huh.

      The second you attempt to break out of any one of those tight boundaries, you WILL find yourself in jail/kicked out of school/fired/persecuted or in some way silenced or punished.

      Um, of course they will. You see, those are the consequences of your free speech. There has never been any real disagreement on this issue, you have free speech, and you have the responsibility to use it wisely.

      Pretending like "free speech" means "say whatever the fuck I want with impunity, while simultaneously forcing others to accept my speech without exercising their own free speech (which is your primary complaint)" is bullshit.

      Free speech never meant "say what you like with impunity" and anyone claiming otherwise is full of it.

      • by bigpaperbag (1105581) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:34PM (#25106089)
        Exactly. Consequences seem to have become antiquated these days.
        • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:48PM (#25106343)

          Consequences seem to have become antiquated these days.

          And public schools were one of the first victims of this. If their child isn't marked as perfect in every way, many parents will harass the teachers until they give in, and any teacher who dares discipline their golden child faces the wrath of hell itself. I'm surprised that suspensions wasn't replaced with "verbal hugs", wherein the student is made to feel so loved that they fix whatever's wrong! (without physical contact, of course, because that would get them arrested)

      • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:12PM (#25106767)

        You see, those are the consequences of your free speech.

        For some reason, I really hate it when people bring this up. "Say anything you like, and if those thugs like it too, you won't get beat up." I'm aware of consequences. It's not like action and reaction were invented yesterday.

        That's why, when someone starts spouting off on "consequences" around me, I stomp on their foot. Then I say, "Sorry, that's just a consequence of hearing you say that." But, like I say, I'm aware of consequences, and I try only to do this to smaller men -- or women, and only then when there are no witnesses. Since the corollary of "there are consequences is: "only if you get caught." Of course, all of these rules -- including my policy of only picking on weaker people -- are just special cases of the "Might makes right" law.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Just Some Guy (3352)

        Free speech never meant "say what you like with impunity" and anyone claiming otherwise is full of it.

        Careful there. By that benchmark, North Koreans enjoy freedom of speech because they could goosestep right up to Kim Jong-il and call him a runty little jackass. Sure, they and there families may be tortured to death afterward, but they can say it.

        Free speech most certainly does mean that you can express your opinion without fear of punishment. However, it doesn't protect you from making enemies, and that's a whole 'nother discussion.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:29PM (#25106009)

      I have it on good authority that elrous0 is a pedophile. He has repeatedly propositioned me for sex (I'm a 12 year old boy), and has harassed my family when I've rejected him. Also, he has B.O.

      Any down-mods for this post are an attack on free-speech and I will respond by murdering the president.

    • by jorghis (1000092)

      Based on both your comments and your response time it is fairly clear you didnt actually read what happened. (unless you are capable of parsing all that in under 60 seconds) She was libeling her principle. If I were working in education and someone said stuff like that about me I would sue the bejeebers out of them, she should be glad that this is all that happened to her.

    • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:34PM (#25106083)

      Better for the kid to learn now that "free speech" is (and always has been) a crock of shit in the U.S. ... Just because some civics class says you have "the right to free speech" does not mean that you can actually ever speak freely in any real world environment without fear of persecution.

      That's a "crock of shit". Free speech (in the U.S.) doesn't mean one can say anything they want about someone with impunity. Unless the site was *clearly* a parody, calling someone a "sex addict who 'hits on students'" is slander - or libel when written.

      I haven't seen the student site but can't really imagine why it would be considered a parody. Is the principal famous or a otherwise well-known or out-spoken person with a position on the subject? Is the student obviously poking fun at the person and/or his position, or just making stuff up that another, uninformed, person may take to be truth?

      • by Hatta (162192) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:53PM (#25106435) Journal

        Unless the site was *clearly* a parody, calling someone a "sex addict who 'hits on students'" is slander - or libel when written.

        That's irrelevant. We have a justice system to deal with these cases. If the kid committed slander or libel, prosecute him through the criminal justice system, or settle it in the civil justice system. School officials ought to have no authority over what happens outside of school grounds or school activities.

    • "The right to free speech" in reality translates to "The right to conventional, relatively non-controversial speech in a setting that will not upset anyone or be particularly noticed by anyone who might be offended or threatened by said speech." The second you attempt to break out of any one of those tight boundaries, you WILL find yourself in jail/kicked out of school/fired/persecuted or in some way silenced or punished.

      I think that we need to look at the right to free speech in the context it was originally added in, and is still relevant in other places in the world. The fact of the matter is, you are free to say whatever you want, but not without consequences. When "the right to free speech" was made a Big Thing, and again, in other places in the world, you could be deprived of life/liberty for saying anything remotely against the $LEADER (Monarch, Church, Dictator, Baron).

      While I do think that this, and many other judgements go against the spirit of the "free speech", I think that we need to be careful to avoid hyperbole about just how much it's curtailed. You don't have roving squads of government sponsored thugs taking/torturing/killing people for speaking out. You don't have to watch every word you say to your friends/neighbours, you don't have to be careful about what you write.

      So, while we have free speech, that doesn't mean "speech with no consequences". In this case, specifically, the student was probably a little out of line, but is allowed to be. However, there were consequences, and none of them involved an overly harsh punishment (oohh, suspended!).

      Don't take this as me saying it's ok for this to happen, but simply as me saying "lets put things in the right light". Lets avoid the OH MY GOD THE WORLD IS ENDING hyperbole that is so popular on these threads, and speak reasonably, because honestly, things could be a lot worse.

    • by erroneus (253617) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:40PM (#25106189) Homepage

      I would like to explained out-right that we cannot live by our professed and proclaimed ideals. Our politicians suppress peaceful protests during political rallies often resulting in violent conflicts, abuse by police and false imprisonment.

      The lesson should be that position and authority trumps the rule of law. We are seeing that all over in spite of constitutional law to the contrary.

      But in looking at the case in hand, I have to wonder what the "best" course of action should be. Accusing someone of professional misconduct and of being a pedophile [starting a witch hunt under the notion that there must be a 'grain of truth'] is a very damaging act.

      I think the "right" thing to do would have been to first demand a retraction, removal and apology. Failing that, the principal should have filed his own individual suit against the student. "Free Speech" does have its practical limits after all. Using the force of the principal's authority in this way sends a message that reflects a deviation from our social ideals. And ultimately, the parody was a personal attack and should be responded to personally, not professionally. Words like "Abuse of position, power and authority" come to mind when the individual attack is responded to in this way.

      I think the principal should "fight back" but should also "fight fair." ...and this doesn't bring up the shadowy question of whether or not there is a grain of truth in the parody.

    • by Sj0 (472011) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:44PM (#25106271) Homepage Journal

      This is an interesting case because the submitter is correct. There's no jurisdiction for a school to be regulating speech outside the school. If the principal has a problem with something said about him outside of his little sphere of influence, then he isn't God, nor a king. He should press charges for civil libel, which would surely be dropped because there's no arguement for damages.

      There was a case in Alaska which was tried by the Supreme Court of the United States, and they spent the entire discussion phase trying to determine whether the acts had taken place during school time, turning it into something the school has jurisdiction over.

      The ruling which says the principal has jurisdiction over a student's free time is simply extending a despotic bureaucrat's powers far beyond what they ought to be. It's bad enough that we subject our children to the tyrannical reign of the school administration, which exists without any checks or balances, without any due process or practical restraint on abuses of power, for 8 hours a day. Allowing them power over children fully 24 hours a day is placing children fully into the custody of the school. We might as well stop asking parents to watch their children at all, because the "benevolent" god-kings in the school administration can act as judge, jury, and executioner in all cases, on and off of school property.

    • Better for the kid to learn now that "free speech" is (and always has been) a crock of shit in the U.S

      I'd like to see some case law support for your ludicrous assertion. Comparatively speaking, the US has the strongest free speech protections on the planet. That doesn't mean no restrictions, as no right is absolute. But your hysterical response just does not jive with the facts.
  • by mfh (56) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:15PM (#25105743) Journal

    The school's responsibility is to prepare you for life after you are finished school. Office politics play a huge role in that kind of development, because you cannot escape office politics -- they permiate every infrsstructure, at every level. It's a large part of the game and there is no getting around it, sorry.

    Furthermore, I can guarantee that if you made fun of your boss as being a sex addict who hits on employees, you would be fired immediately. You might have a case for wrongful dismissal, but your lawyer would tell you to drop it and get another job (because even if the boss hit on you there are better options than public mockery -- judges tend to dislike that).

    • From TFA:

      "But Munley found the more appropriate Supreme Court decision to apply was the 1986 decision in Bethel School District v. Fraser, in which the justices upheld a suspension imposed on a student who used "an elaborate, graphic, and explicit sexual metaphor" during a speech at a school assembly...

      In its most recent school free speech case, the 2007 decision in Morse v. Frederick, Munley found that the justices upheld a suspension of a student who had unfurled a banner that read "BONG HiTS 4JESUS" during a school- sponsored trip to view the Olympic torch relay.

      The cases cited as precedent have to do with speech made at school or at a school function(as emphasized above) and I agree that schools should be allowed to regulate as necessary, but they should have no place in silencing speech outside of school or school functions.

      Now, if they could prove that the MySpace page was made by the student while they were at school, that'd be understandable, but in this case they should have notified the parent and left it up to the parent to decide appropria

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by htrn (125633)

        To further the discussion a little, with the internet being as pervasive as it is in our society it could be possible that someone was accessing this content at the school thereby bringing the comments to the campus of the school.

        Even with this potential I do not believe that it should be within the jurisdiction of the school district to punish the offending party within their rules if the content was not created there, but it does provide an argument that it could be stated "on school premises".

        I

  • by FluffyWithTeeth (890188) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:21PM (#25105837)

    That sounds like blatant libel.

    The stupid girl should consider herself lucky for having it settled with a simple suspension rather than being taken to court.

    • That sounds like blatant libel.

      Not until he drops his pants and produces a ruler!

    • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:26PM (#25105941) Journal

      Exactly.

      But then again, little Johnny(or Suzie) School Kid doesn't realize that it could be worse. If I were the judge, I would have asked which way they wanted to defend it.

      Do you want to defend this as a "School Matter" or under "Criminal Justice or Civil Court" rules.

    • by chaffed (672859)

      Agreed.

      This is a civil matter involving libel. I'm sure a couple days out of class is better than a several thousand dollar settlement.

      #include DevilsAdvocate.h

      Isn't this an abuse of power by the principal? Shouldn't the correct course of action, if he wished to be made whole, had been pursuing a civil suit?

      I think this is akin to the city repossessing your house because you called the county commissioner a "doo doo head". This hypothetical is the same in reaction but not in scale.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CSMatt (1175471)

        This was no business of the schools and was purely a private matter between the principal and the student. A suspension may be seen as a lighter sentence compared to a civil suit, but it is still an abuse of power.

        To use a different example: would it be right for the government to fine you if you made libelous statements about the president, or would it be more appropriate for him to sue you in a civil court?

  • by MosesJones (55544) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:22PM (#25105861) Homepage

    This isn't satire, this isn't parody, this is just abusive stuff out of the mind of a teenager, they might think its "cool" but in fact accusing a principal in this heavily sensitive times of being a paedophile is just about as low and threatening as a student can get. This isn't free speech in the same way as a John Stewart gag is satire this is just abusive rubbish out of the mind of an immature kid.

    Getting kicked out is the least of this kid's problems, they are lucky that they aren't looking down the barrel of a lawsuit with lots of damages attached.

    Free Speech is critical to a well functioning democracy and its worth defending, but it isn't a license to just spout off crap. Hell even Spiderman movies know that "with great power comes great responsibility".

    • Oh please. Quoting a damned movie for life advice, eh?

      Here's a clue: EVERYBODY has free speech. Everybody, thanks to the Internet, can be a reporter.

      Here's another clue: The principal SHOULD NOT have used school against the cretin. There's this wonderful law called Slander and Libel. Perhaps, he ought to use it against the kid and their parents.

    • by russotto (537200) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:27PM (#25105965) Journal

      This isn't satire, this isn't parody, this is just abusive stuff out of the mind of a teenager

      It doesn't matter; if a teenager libels the principal outside the school, the principal's legitimate response would be a libel suit. NOT to take on the role of judge, jury, and executioner himself. That's corruption on the principal's part, using his official power to address a personal wrong.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by loafula (1080631)
        I think the principal did the kid a favor. Look at it this way- the principal needed to do something when he found out about the libel (he was accused of being a paedophile). He had a choice- handle it as a school matter, and discipline the student accordingly, or handle it in the courts. Which option do you think would have been most damaging to the student? I think the principal, by keeping the matter in the school, acted in both his and the student's best interests- like a good principal should. The seri
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by uglydog (944971)

        if a teenager libels the principal outside the school, the principal's legitimate response would be a libel suit. NOT to take on the role of judge, jury, and executioner himself.

        I don't agree. When you are part of a society, you are bound by implicit social contract [wikipedia.org]. Even if something isn't illegal, if it is anti-social behaviour, it should be discouraged. If the parents aren't teaching the kid that, let the school teach it. And the kid just got suspended. It's not the end of the world. I think the punishment fit the crime. Making a big deal out of this, I feel, legitimizes all those "hot coffee" claims. Let's not pretend we're idiots and let's not blow things out of propor

      • by fishthegeek (943099) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:34PM (#25107177) Journal
        You're an idiot. When the students talk about it, focus on it, and publicize it DURING school which you KNOW happened it BECOMES a school issue.

        Accusations such as presented on the Myspace page surely and completely impact a principals ability to function in the school and it schould properly be dealt with in school.
    • It might be libel. Then again the kid could just be exaggerating for effect. Sometimes kids have a hard time telling a serious issue seriously and respond by making it more humorous. There should be some sort of investigation to see if the claims have any merit. If they don't, they don't and he's just a punk kid that should be disciplined with all of the consequences you listed. The allegations should still be looked into.

      I didn't see anything in the story that even mentions any kind of investigation of t
    • by RingDev (879105) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:45PM (#25106293) Homepage Journal

      I totally agree that a suspension is an easy break for the kid, but...

      Look at the precedence. If this ruling goes unchallenged, what's to prevent a school from suspending any student they like for posting something on their my-space page? A student could post a valid, non-libel complaint about one of their instructors, and get suspended for it even though the comment was made off school grounds/times and was not in violation of the law. And what if it gets into even more heated topics. A white girl in a southern Georgia town post pictures of her date with her new black boyfriend to a social networking site and gets a 3 day suspension from School, why? Because the principal is a racist. Take it to court, and he'll site this case as precedence. Given power and time someone will abuse it.

      This is a pretty significant power grab being made by the school that dramatically shifts the existing boundaries of power. As a quasi-conservative, I can't fathom why anyone would want to have such a result. I mean, I entrust the school system with my son during the day. I expect that they will keep an eye on him and make sure he performs well and integrates with society. When he leaves school, he is my responsibility, not theirs. And if he posts some crap like this on the internet, it is MY job to discipline him, not the school's. If the Principal wants to be responsible for disciplining my son for things that happen out side of the school environment, he can talk to me, or he can talk to a lawyer.

      -Rick

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Colonel Korn (1258968)

        I totally agree that a suspension is an easy break for the kid, but...

        Look at the precedence. If this ruling goes unchallenged, what's to prevent a school from suspending any student they like for posting something on their my-space page? A student could post a valid, non-libel complaint about one of their instructors, and get suspended for it even though the comment was made off school grounds/times and was not in violation of the law. And what if it gets into even more heated topics. A white girl in a southern Georgia town post pictures of her date with her new black boyfriend to a social networking site and gets a 3 day suspension from School, why? Because the principal is a racist. Take it to court, and he'll site this case as precedence. Given power and time someone will abuse it.

        This is a pretty significant power grab being made by the school that dramatically shifts the existing boundaries of power. As a quasi-conservative, I can't fathom why anyone would want to have such a result. I mean, I entrust the school system with my son during the day. I expect that they will keep an eye on him and make sure he performs well and integrates with society. When he leaves school, he is my responsibility, not theirs. And if he posts some crap like this on the internet, it is MY job to discipline him, not the school's. If the Principal wants to be responsible for disciplining my son for things that happen out side of the school environment, he can talk to me, or he can talk to a lawyer.

        -Rick

        Schools already can and do suspend any kid for any reason at any time. They have the power to suspend at will. This very very occasionally results in a law suit, but it's exceedingly rare and the school usually wins (in my home town, at least). So why aren't all kids always suspended? Because the people who run the schools are focused on educating children, not arbitrary punishment. This administrative self-control works, and usually (like this time), suspension is a matter that should never have gone

    • No shit (Score:4, Insightful)

      by phorm (591458) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:50PM (#25106379) Journal

      It seems like the writer of the article assumes that "actions done outside should shouldn't have consequences/effects/jurisdiction inside school." This is bullshit. Aside from the fact that this teen should be held up on charges of liable/slander (depending on whether said statements were made solely online), the fact is that actions corresponding to the institution apply outside of the physical premises.

      I seem to remember plenty of cases where kids would be beaten by classmates outside of school grounds. The argument by the bullies was that it wasn't on school properly, and thus not in the school's concern (although this is a dumb concept in itself, for as such that would make it more of a police concern and/or an assault charge... a suspension seems a lighter consequence).

      This is a school matter, as well as a legal matter, and - unless the principal does turn out to be at fault (which requires actual charges, evidence, and court hearings, not just hearsay) - as such should be fully within the school's jurisdiction to discipline. There's a big difference between writing something silly online like

      "Mr X is a poopoo head" (infantile and easily disregarded)

      or

      "Mr X sucks donkey dong" (infantile, still more likely to be disregarded, but depending on scale may warrant detention)

      In this case,
      "Mr X molests small children in his office" is - by the nature of the comment - damaging to the reputation of the principal, and warrants both in-school (detention/suspension) and legal (civil and/or libel charges).

      The fact is, people are often by nature willing to believe the worst in somebody. Even if it seems spurious, such a claim - because of its gravity, and prior histories of such instances - can be damaging simply because of the little nagging "it seems untrue, but what if..." thoughts it tends to bring up.

      To those that disagree: if somebody posts up a MySpace page claiming that you are a flaming bisexual with a penchant for buggery of small children and animals... do you think that "free speech" should allow them a pass? How about when your future or current employer finds this page when checking into you online?

  • The biggest problem (Score:2, Interesting)

    by omfgnosis (963606)

    Obviously this is an injustice in its own right. Regardless of what "the real world" is like, this is not how it is supposed to be.

    But what's especially troubling is that it can be used as precedent to shut down corporate/government whistleblowers. If an institution's rules apply even when you're outside of that institution, your employer owns you.

  • by russotto (537200) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:24PM (#25105873) Journal

    The basic error made by the judge seems to be that because the speech was _about_ the school, it is under the school's jurisdiction. That's his "connection between the off-campus action and on-campus effect." And the Supreme Court opened up the door to this sort of specious reasoning in "Morse v. Frederick", where they ruled that a banner visible from the school (but not on school property) was considered to be under school jurisdiction. The Supreme Court didn't rely on that fact alone, but it's enough for a judge who makes the decision first and justifies it later to hang an opinion on.

  • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@nOSPam.gmail.com> on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:24PM (#25105891)
    Doesn't mean freedom from consequence - its called responsibility.
    • by russotto (537200) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:30PM (#25106015) Journal

      Of course freedom of speech means freedom from consequence -- at least, official governmental consequence. If it didn't, it would be meaningless. The government could pass a law saying "Anyone criticizing a member of Congress, Senator, President, or Vice President shall be executed", and it wouldn't violate "free speech" as you've defined it.

      • Free speech comes with it a responsibility to use it responsibly - there are plenty of current laws that you can fall foul of by using some forms of speech (ever tried threatening someone? Ever tried threatening the President? Should threats be above reproach? How about false advertising?), some of which I disagree with, some I do not. But the responsibility always exists.
  • by Sockatume (732728) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:26PM (#25105935)
    IANAL, but my understanding was that with respect to employee conduct, sexual harassment does not make a distinction between harassing coworkers inside the workplace and outside the workplace, so long as they are actually your coworkers. So I could certainly see the rational, if not legal, argument for this ruling.

    Speaking of IANAL, since when did Slashdot publish essays on law from someone who explicitly states he's not a lawyer (although he's taken people to court under very different circumstances from the article)? What makes them qualified to get a whole Slashdot article to themselves?
    • by Sockatume (732728)
      I should say, why isn't this on somebody's blog, and then linked to, rather than posted as an article on its own?
  • Counter example? (Score:4, Informative)

    by UnknowingFool (672806) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:26PM (#25105937)

    While not directly analogous I think the best counter example to this is the Supreme Court case Huster v Falwell [wikipedia.org]. While that case doesn't apply directly to students, it says that lewd and offensive are not enough to disqualify something from free speech protections. In that case, Jerry Falwell sued Hustler for publishing a parody of a Campri ad where it insinuated that Jerry's first time was with his mother in an outhouse. The lower courts found that though no one could possibly believe the parody was truth, the ad was offensive enough to rule for Falwell. The Supreme Court disagreed:

    At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern. The freedom to speak one's mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty - and thus a good unto itself - but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole. We have therefore been particularly vigilant to ensure that individual expressions of ideas remain free from governmentally imposed sanctions. . . Generally speaking, the law does not regard the intent to inflict emotional distress as one which should receive much solicitude, and it is quite understandable that most, if not all, jurisdictions have chosen to make it civilly culpable where the conduct in question is sufficiently "outrageous." But in the world of debate about public affairs, many things done with motives that are less than admirable are protected by the First Amendment.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fermion (181285)
      This is not the best analogy. The issue here is the celebrity status, powers differential and the existence of due process. In the example you site, Jerry Fawell is celebrity, as defined by the fact he was a well known media personality who exploited this media presence for personal gain. Once someone is celbrity, most libel claims are difficult to bring. For instance most people are free to call Fawell a racist whore, and, at least in the US all that can be done is to cause trouble by filing a frivolo
  • IANAL and IANAT (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blcamp (211756) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:27PM (#25105963) Homepage

    I love free speech as much as the next Yankee, BUT...

    Let's ask this question: what would happen to a school kid if he/she directed the same kind of provocative language at the principal or a school teacher, IN PERSON, either in the hallway or in a classroom?

    How long would it take to slap down a suspension? It would probably happen before you or I could finish saying the word "suspension".

    For right or for wrong, pure "free speech" in this case is going to take a back seat to order and discipline. It's a necessity IMHO, in order to allow a school to carry out it's primary mission of teaching kids the classic "three R's".

    Putting comments out on the web, whether on a blog or social site or a standalone web site, as far as I am concerned, is no different than uttering the words in person. What point does this kind of disrespectful behaior have, other than to disrupt the educational process? And don't give me this "harmless prank" nonsense - accusing a professional of criminal activity online, even if "joking" about it - there's nothing funny about it whatsoever.

    I'm neither a lawyer or a teacher, not even a parent, but you can bet I would support a schools suspension of any student who pulls this kind of stunt.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by russotto (537200)

      Putting comments out on the web, whether on a blog or social site or a standalone web site, as far as I am concerned, is no different than uttering the words in person.

      And that is because you are a blithering idiot.

      What point does this kind of disrespectful behaior have, other than to disrupt the educational process?

      Free speech needs no point. It includes the freedom to be disrespectful.

  • Poor packaging (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lymond01 (314120) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:29PM (#25105997)

    Judge was dead on right. The summary tries to steer the reader into thinking this is the Man stepping on Free Speech (it's parody, right! You can do or say anything when it's parody!) when it's really some poor guy, not even a public figure, getting publicly slandered by a kid.

    Not to add that the era matters: in the 50's the kid could be calling the principal a Communist. These days, if she's hinting he's a sex offender, people are hyper-sensitive to that.

    Kid needs to have life explained, in detail, without dessert.

  • Libel/slander (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Atheose (932144) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:32PM (#25106063)

    To prove libel/slander, you have to prove three basic things:

    1. The accusations are false
    2. She knew the accusations were false
    3. She had malicious intent

    All three seem pretty easy to prove in this case. The girl's lucky the principle isn't suing her. Free speech is great, but kids like this ruin it by spouting off malicious garbage.

  • by writerjosh (862522) * on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:52PM (#25106411) Homepage
    When I was in High School, my teachers used to always say, "school is not a democracy." And they're right. If all the kids voted to have the pricipal expelled in a "true" democratic environment, the kids would have mob rule over the school. In otherwords, you have to have some sort of authoritarian system ruling over the unwashed masses of high schoolers.

    That's not to say that students don't have any rights. Of course they do, but in this case, I think the principal has every right to expell the student and it never should have even gone to court. The principal has to maintain discipline and order on some level. He should have the right to expel any student for disruption. If the parents don't like it, demand another principal. THEY have that right.

    I mean, what's the worst thing that happens here? Its not like the student is going to jail, they just get expelled and have to go to another school. And everyone learns a lesson: we're not here to accuse the principal of pediphilia, we're here to get an education, and if you don't want to play nice, go to another school.

    And the other issue here is: that principal now has a tarnished reputaion he can never get rid of. Whether he's actually a pediphile or not is another story, but some kid claiming he is is a serious slander that will taint the rest of this principal's career.

    The kid deserved to be expelled.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098)

      You're right, school is not a democracy. What your teachers failed to tell you is that it's not a tyranny either: it's a government institution with a very specific goal. The employees are government employees, paid with your taxes.

      This means that teachers and principals can't just do whatever they feel like when they come across something they don't like. This, to me, certainly crossed the line.

  • by Aurisor (932566) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:26PM (#25107007) Homepage

    Can someone please explain to me why the school ought to have jurisdiction over activities that take place outside of school grounds, off school hours? I just cannot for the life of me understand the basis.

    The school is there to provide necessary civil services, just like the fire department or infrastructure maintenance.

    If my son were to slander the fire chief or the head of the department of transportation, it would be considered an abuse of power for them refuse to let my house burn down or to stop repairing the road leading to my house. Of course, if I were to threaten them with a knife while they were in the process of doing either of those things, I think they would be allowed to *stop* helping me.

    If anything, there's been a strong move in this country *away* from allowing schools to punish students (the loss of their right to issue corporal punishment, for example).

    This, to me, seems just like an extension of the specious assertion that schools have the right to drug-test students or prohibit them from participating in sports if they're guilty of alcohol-related offenses.

    Furthermore, I very much doubt that the school would have expelled the student if they had committed similar libel against an individual not affiliated with the school.

    I don't see any reason for circumventing the channels designed for dealing with libel other than the fact that they can, and it seems like a clear-cut abuse of power to exact personal revenge.

  • by bigbigbison (104532) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:26PM (#25107017) Homepage
    I think that being able to be suspended for something done completely outside of school is a horrible notion. At least the myspace page didn't imply that the principal supported bong hits for Jesus...

    That being said, in the abstract it is an interesting situation. You are the principal and the student has done something like this. What do you do? I think that one option would be to treat it like other things that are banned on school grounds like alcohol or pornography. The school can't (or at least shouldn't) be able to control what they are doing at home but if they bring it to school then they are in trouble. So perhaps it would have been more suitable to suspend the students for looking at the website in school -- I'm sure they have some policy about looking at porn websites in school?

    Then there's also the question of the parent(s). If your child had made a website like that, even if you thought that suspension was totally unwarrented, would you really defend your child and hire lawyers in this situation? Think about it, now everyone knows your kid has really really poor judgment and you are a bad parent.
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:53PM (#25107557) Journal

    The correct thing to do would have been to hold the student legally liable for the results of their actions (ie LIBEL) since what they did wasn't to just say "this principal is a jerk" but made them out to be a pedophile.

    That's actionable.

    Then, when the stupid chick was facing criminal penalties, she could BEG the school for a compromise penalty that included suspension instead of $000's in penalties.

    Kids today are so stupid, they have this 'no matter what I do, I'm always safe and protected' vibe (especially, for some stupid reason, regarding whatever they do on MySpace) that is such a pleasure to destroy when they hit the real world. The look on their face when they finally figure it out is priceless...assuming they live through it.

  • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Monday September 22, 2008 @02:25PM (#25108147) Homepage
    The judge was right in this instance.

    People forget that freedom of speech doesn't necessarily mean you can say anything and consider most parents will always side with the minor in the case of claims of sexual abuse, her saying such things could have a very big impact on his life. There is no reason for her to be allowed to do that. She should consider herself lucky that she was only suspended for 10 days.
  • by Theovon (109752) on Monday September 22, 2008 @02:39PM (#25108433)

    I'm not going to advocate the student's suspension, because I don't know enough about the details. But I can say that the student asked for what they got. My ensuing rant isn't about the law. It's about right and wrong.

    Free speech in the US allows for a lot of abusive speech. It has to in order allow all forms of more constructive speech. But what people have to realize is that freedoms don't just come with responsibilities. They ARE responsibilities. As a citizen, it is your responsibility to both ensure that free speech is allowed AND to use that right responsibly.

    Part of what students in school should learn is constructive civil behavior. Calling the principal a paedophile was both uncivil and unconstructive. In saying what the student said, they had a point to make. Unfortunately, by using irresponsible means, the student got into trouble instead. Their point was not made.

    The primary purpose of free speech is to allow any idea to be conveyed publicly. It's about CONTENT. While free speech laws do not and should not dictate the FORM of the speech, it is one's personal responsibilty to try to convey the content in a form that is clear and effective.

    "Principal X is a dick" is vague and unhelpful. Why is principal X a dick? I just think you're being a jackass by saying it. You probably got into trouble for something you did wrong, and you're sore about it. Maybe that's not true, but your petulant attitude is consistent with my inference.

    On the other hand, this would be productive to say (if true): "Principal X should be fired. He has a history of placing authoritarianism above all else, disregarding circumstances. For instance, there's a rule against running in the halls. My friend was running in the hall the other day because he was going to have diarrhea if he didn't make it to the toilet. On his way, he ran past principal X who grapped him by the arm and spent 5 minutes yelling at him about it. Meanwhile, he shit his pants, which was really embarrassing."

    Notice that I have no qualms about the use of certain words like "shit" or whatever. It's not the words we should care about. It's the meaning and intent. If the content is a message, or it has artistic value, it should be encouraged. If the content and/or form are designed purely for the purpose of being offensive, the speaker is being irresponsible. I'm not saying offensive speech should be outlawed. I'm saying that purely offensive speech is WRONG.

    As for the student's punishment, I think it's appropriate. It's one thing to bad-mouth your teachers at home or at a party. It's entirely another to publish lies about them in a recorded medium. This is libel pure and simple.

    As for the rap song with the death threat, that should be taken seriously too. I don't give a damn about rap artist posturing. Murder is wrong, and so is threatening murder. Maybe a professional rap artist can get away with it. I think there's a case for considering it to be artistic and not a specific threat. But it's still iffy. Death threats, even when not specific, could be an indication of something more serious. All you can really do, of course, is be a careful listener.

    For a teenager, one has to be even more careful. Brains aren't fully developed, social conventions are not fully learned. While I knew plenty of teenagers who could distinguish reality from fantasy, I knew far more who could not. Hell, I know far too many adults who can't either. Children are often held to higher standards and stricter rules than adults because they lack experience that tells them what the exceptions are. When my kid is 10 and says "fuck", I'm going to smack his mouth. When he's 20 and says it, I'm going to assume he's grown up enough to know when not to say it and that its use was to emphasize a point, not merely to be gratuitously offensive. That being said, I know 30-year-olds who haven't learned how to temper their language, and as a result, they're losers who can't hold a job at McDonalds.

    Wh

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