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Discipline Upheld Over Fake MySpace Page About Principal

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A federal judge has upheld the discipline of a Pennsylvania 8th grader who created a fake MySpace profile of her principal depicting him as a sex addict and a pedophile.

The student, identified in court papers as J.S., and her parents challenged a 10-day suspension, arguing that the fake profile was created out of school in 2007 and was a non-threatening parody deserving of protection as free speech under the First Amendment.

Judge James M. Munley of U.S. District Court in Scranton, Pa., disagreed in a Sept. 11 decision. In granting the summary judgment motion in favor of the Blue Mountain school district, the judge noted that the fake profile used vulgar and lewd language such as "bitch," "tight ass," and "dick head."

"The speech does not make any type of political statement," Judge Munley said. "It is merely an attack on the school’s principal. It makes him out to be a pedophile and sex addict."

The judge also rejected the student's arguments that the fake profile was beyond the reach of school discipline because it was created off campus. He noted that someone brought a paper copy of the profile into school, and the creation of the profile had caused a buzz among students. Also, J.S. had copied a photo of the principal from the school district's Web site for use on the fake MySpace profile, the judge noted.

Judge Munley noted that the line between on-campus and off-campus speech is increasingly blurred with the ability of students to access the Internet both at home and at school, and on school computers and their own devices such as cellphones.

"As technology allows such access, it requires school administrators to be more concerned about speech created off campus--which almost inevitably leaks onto campus--than they would have been in years past," the judge said.

2 Comments

Attacking the character of a teacher is nothing new, but accusing a principal of this type of crime is pretty terrible. Accusations like this jeopardize the principal's job, among many other things.

It's hard to distinguish the facts of this case from many others that have gone in favor of the student (and often have much worse student conduct). I hope this case gets heard on the merits and/or gets appealed because I think, given the small level of school disruption that actually occurred, that this would have been better left as a private defamation suit rather than as a school disciplinary case.

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