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SCOTUS won't consider off-campus school speech

January 17, 2012

The nation’s highest court has declined to take a pair of cases asking whether schools can censor the off-campus behavior of students who post messages or photos against school officials or other students.

In an order list released Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States did not accept certiorari in the cases of Blue Mountain School District v. J.S., No. 11-502, and Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools, No. 11-461.

The Pennsylvania and West Virginia cases involved questions pitting student free speech rights against those of school safety. The cases presented the SCOTUS with a chance to rule for the first time about how far school officials’ authority goes in the modern age.

In Blue Mountain, the full 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals found that two Pennsylvania students couldn’t be disciplined at school for parodies of their principal that they made on home computers and posted online. In Kowalski, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a West Virginia student’s suspension stemming from the creation of a webpage that suggested another student had a sexually transmitted disease.

This issue is one that Indiana has addressed, with U.S. Chief Judge Philip Simon in the Northern District of Indiana ruling in August that a school district shouldn’t have disciplined two high school girls who posted provocative online photos of themselves posing with phallic lollipops and simulating sexual acts. In T.V. and M.K. v. Smith-Green Community School Corp. and Austin Couch, No. 1:09-CV-00290, Simon determined that because the pictures were outside of school, they are protected by the First Amendment.

 

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