Dec 232010
 December 23, 2010  Posted by  Youth & Schools

Matthew Heller writes:

A former Florida high-school student is officially no longer a cyberbully after winning a settlement in her free-speech lawsuit against a principal who disciplined her for venting about a teacher on a Facebook page.

The settlement provides, among other things, that Pembroke Pines Charter High School will expunge Katherine “Katie” Evans’s three-day suspension from her disciplinary record. The principal, Peter Bayer, suspended her for cyberbullying after she used her home computer to write “Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever met!” in a Facebook posting.

Read more on OnPoint. While Heller focuses mainly on the protected speech aspects, he notes that challenges concerning speech occurring outside of school and whether the schools have a right to discipline for it is a matter that is before several courts at this point.

The expansion of school’s authority to punish or discipline students for behavior that occurs off-campus is an issue I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog. What types of extra-curricular conduct should schools have some authority over in terms of suspending or expelling students? To the extent that extra-curricular activity may create a hostile or dangerous environment in the school building, what should schools be able to do or be responsible for doing? Is this another “balancing” situation? In my opinion, schools have been too quick to suspend or expel students for speech and sadly, the courts have occasionally backed them in some important cases. But apart from speech, there are other concerns that we could probably agree could pose safety risks in schools that start or occur outside of school. What then?  I see this as one of the most important student privacy issues of the next decade and beyond.

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