Court Cases

Recent court cases have concluded that the amount of a school's ability to regulate the content of a student created Web page is directly correlated with how and where it is created.

The First Amendment states "Congress shall make no respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) is one of the first Supreme Court cases where the school was granted the right to "censor" their students under some restrictions. Censorship was granted if and only if there is evidence that a disruption occurred or was highly likely to occur. The Court ruled that a school might not justify limiting a student's speech because it dislikes it or is upset with the content.(3)

In 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier upheld a principal's censorship of a nondisruptive student newspaper at Hazelwood East High School near St. Louis. The Supreme Court upheld the principal's deletions of an article about teen pregnancies and one about divorce from the student newspaper. The student newspaper was produced in a journalism class under supervision of a teacher for academic credit. The Court said that under these conditions the school could impose any regulations on a school-sponsored expression, which includes student publications, plays, speeches and assemblies.(1)

In Beussink v. Woodland R-IV School District (1998) a high school student created a "homepage" from his home computer. The homepage was very disparaging of the administration at his school and was accessible through the Internet. The plaintiff never gave anyone the address of his homepage nor did he intend for it to be viewed at his high school. The principal made the decision to discipline the plaintiff merely because he was upset that it was viewed in a classroom of the school, not because it caused any kind of disruption. DECISION: When a student, while off school grounds, creates an unofficial Web site that causes no disruptions in the classroom, but contains speech that the administration dislikes, it is a violation to the student's First Amendment rights.(3)

The Emmet v. Kent School District No. 41516 case arose after a high school student posted an unofficial school Web page, made on his home computer, on the Internet. This page (created without school resources and on the student's own time) included a disclaimer that it was not school sponsored and was for entertainment purposes only. The site posted "mock" obituaries of the plaintiff's friends and allowed visitors to vote on who should be the have the next "mock obituary." Upon learning about the site, the school district placed the plaintiff on five-day suspension. The court held that the Web site was entirely out of the school's supervision or control and was not connected with any school-sponsored activity. The school district was enjoined from enforcing the five-day suspension.(3)

According to the New York Law Journal, to date, it is fair to conclude that courts will not permit schools to reflexively discipline students for homepages created on their home computers, having little or no relation to the school itself. However, where student Internet communication and Web site creation bears directly on class or school activities and where disruption can be shown, discipline will be justifiable.

Most Recent Update: Novemeber 30, 2000
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