Back on October 23, 2013, a Central York High School student posted a remark on Facebook after a bomb threat had forced the school to evacuate. His post, “Plot twist, bomb isn’t found and goes off tomorrow,” was seen as enough of a threat by the school’s administrators that the district’s superintendent questioned the student on his ability to make a bomb, and later suspended the student for 10 days.
The family of the student (identified only as R.L.), sued the district, claiming that the suspension was a direct violation of R.L.’s first amendment right to free speech. They pointed to the 1969 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech…at the schoolhouse gate.”
However, the presiding U.S. District Court Judge, John E. Jones III, ruled earlier this week that simply because the students do not give up their rights to freedom of speech, it does not preclude punishment in all cases. Judge Jones also stated in his opinion on the matter that case law is still very-much evolving on these kinds of issues, with the introduction of the internet and social media intermingling with our everyday lives. Another question that arose from this case was whether comments on the Internet actually constitute off-campus speech.
Jones reasoned that if a school’s administrators believed a comment constituted a reasonable threat to its students and might lead to fear and a disruption of the school day, the administrators ought to be able to address it.
As case law like this continues to develop, it could mean your child’s Internet speech may spell trouble for them at school. One thing is clear: the Internet can cause new challenges both for schools, your child, and you as a parent. Between online bullying and comments that can be construed by others as threatening or endangering classmates, it’s never been more important to monitor your child’s online activity.
If you have any questions about your rights and the rights of your children, contact one of our experienced attorneys to set up a free consultation.