Social networking sites have completely changed the way millions of people communicate. This change contributes to the blurring of the line between in and out of school. Admirably, teachers want to connect with their students and their families. But schools are sometimes concerned with the extent of the communication and if it could lead to inappropriate contact. Students use the Internet and social networking as a primary communication tool for everything. This sometimes runs afoul of the school district’s interests when students are inappropriate in their communications with other students, with school personnel, or in posts about the school.

Students’ off-campus speech about school employees

As the Supreme Court ruled in 1969 in Tinker v. Des Moines, off-campus speech that is unrelated to any school-sponsored activity can only be regulated if there is a reasonable likelihood that the speech will have a material and substantial disruption at school. Applying this standard to modern communications means that students cannot be disciplined for their online speech posted while they are off campus unless it causes or is likely to cause a disruption at school. Here are some examples:

  • A student created a parody site of his principal on Myspace while he was off campus. He posted the principal’s picture and fictitious answers to questions. Students accessed the site at school, causing minimal disruption while students gathered at a computer to look at it. The student was given a 10-day suspension. But in Layshock v. Hermitage (2011), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that the school had no authority to do so since the site was created off campus and posed no substantial disruption to the school. A similar case, J.S. v. Blue Mountain, was decided by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals at the same time and is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by the school district.
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