Students sue over pics

November 2, 2009
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Perhaps this suit can be a lesson to the generation growing up with MySpace, Facebook, and cell phones: What you post online can come back to haunt you.

Two high school sophomores in northern Indiana are suing their principal and the school corporation because they were suspended from some extracurricular activities and had to attend mental health counseling because of pictures posted on MySpace.

These two girls, and some other friends, put on lingerie, tucked dollar bills into their clothes, and posed with phallus-shaped lollipops because they thought it would be funny. It would be even funnier to post them online for all their MySpace “friends” to see.

Someone tipped off the school’s principal about the pictures, and he suspended them from some after-school activities, including athletics, and made them participate in three counseling sessions to lessen their punishment.

The principal has the authority to do this based on the school corporation’s code of conduct.

The students say the punishment for activity that happened outside of school and in no way identified the school violated their First Amendment rights. They want this to be a class action suit with the court entering a permanent injunction to prevent the principal from punishing students for out-of-school conduct and to expunge this incident from the plaintiffs’ records.

Do the students have a legitimate case against the school and principal when the school’s code of conduct says the principal has the authority to exclude any student-athlete if conduct out of school reflects poorly on the school? Can schools punish students for online posts when you can’t immediately tell which school the student is affiliated with?

Something else that jumped out in the suit: The students are now “extremely reluctant” to post pictures on their MySpace pages or share pictures, e-mails, or other communications with their friends because of fear that will lead to further punishment, even if they don’t interfere with the school. That’s a good thing. A lot of people, especially kids who don’t know a world without the Internet, don’t realize that posting questionable photos or comments online can come back to haunt you.

It’s one thing for a sophomore girl, who’s probably 15 when these photos were taken, to post a picture of her and her friends at a slumber party. It’s another thing when those pictures involve underage girls in lingerie and holding penis-shaped lollipops. Could that be considered child pornography?

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