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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Student Can Be Disciplined for Off-Campus Social Media Activities

A high school student was suspended from school following a school district hearing because of threatening social media posts and text messages.  The student’s conduct included threatening to shoot people at the school and raping students, along with racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic comments. Friends of the disciplined student had raised concerns about the messages with a high school coach, who brought the allegations to the principal.  After the school district suspended the student for 90 days, the student and his father sued the school, administrators, and county under Section 1983 for violation of the student’s First Amendment rights.  The district court ruled in favor of the county. 
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court, citing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist.  Wynar v. Douglas County School District, No. 11-17127 (9th Cir. Aug. 29, 2013). Under Tinker, schools can prohibit speech that "might reasonably [lead] school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities or that collides with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone."  Here, the court had no trouble finding that it was reasonable for school authorities to foresee a substantial disruption of school activities and act based on the student’s speech.  Specifically, the Court held "[w]hatever the scope of the 'rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone,' without doubt the threat of a school shooting impinges on those rights. [Wynar's] messages threatened the student body as a whole and targeted specific students by name. They represent the quintessential harm to the rights of other students to be secure."

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