Pennsylvania public school principals can’t punish students for vulgarity spoken outside of school property, even if it mocks a school official or is posted on the Internet.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has ruled in favor of two Pennsylvania students who were punished at school for creating social-networking profiles in parody of their respective principals.
Legal Director Vic Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union represented the two defendants in separate cases. Walczak says while school officials can rightfully punish students in school to maintain order, they can’t discipline kids for things said off-campus. He says that sort of punishment would violate the students’ First Amendment right to free speech.
Walczak says the courts “ducked” the opportunity to resolve the question of whether off-campus speech that causes a disruption in the school can be punished. He says there was no in-school disruption in either case.
Walczak says while the parodies were rude and vulgar, they are protected speech.
Each student was suspended ten days for creating a satirical Myspace.com profile. One was in Hermitage School District in Mercer County, the other in Blue Mountain School District in Schuylkill County.