Students can be disciplined for harmful MySpace pages, court rules

A federal court ruled against three high school students who harmed a school administrator through a phony MySpace page.

The ruling, according to an analysis by the Lozano Smith law firm which specializes in education issues held that students can be disciplined for a destructive website even if it is created away from school property and does not use school resources.

At issue was a MySpace personal profile the students created for an assistant principal containing a fake biography and lewd comments about some female students.

Although the profile was created at one of the students homes, the profile was much discussed at school and took up a lot of class time, and was accessed from a school computer by at least one of the students during class. After holding disciplinary hearings, the school board suspended the students.

The students filed a suit in federal court alleging that the school boards disciplinary actions violated their first and fourteenth amendment rights.

But the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee determined that although the profiles were created outside of school, the school district still could reasonably regulate this student free speech since it substantially disrupted the schools operation.

In upholding the suspensions, the Court found that the fake profile was not a parody protected by the First Amendment, as the students alleged, because a visitor to the website might not have made that connection. The Court also held that the disciplinary actions did not deprive the students of their rights to a public education without due process of law, also as the students alleged, because, procedurally, they had an opportunity to refute the charges against them and question witnesses during their suspension hearings, and substantively, essentially, the punishment fit the crime.