Tuesday, June 3, 2008

US COURT OF APPEALS STRIPS CONSTITUTION FROM ANOTHER HIGH SCHOOLER

JACQUI CHENG, ARSTECHNICA Calling someone a douche bag on the Internet usually doesn't result in much in the way of major consequences. That is unless, of course, you're in high school and the douche bag in question is a school official. In the case of Lewis S. Mills High School senior Avery Doninger, the use of the d-word on her blog resulted in her losing her position as class . . . Unfortunately for the Doningers, the courts have thus far sided with the school's decision. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court decision yesterday, saying that while it was sympathetic to Avery's plight, the school did not violate her constitutional rights. . .

Avery then made a post on her personal blog while at home, outside of school hours. In it, she used somewhat unladylike language to describe school officials, and called on other students to write or call in their complaints. . . . The blog post contained no threats and was fairly benign outside of her use of the word in question. Although the blog post is no longer online, it's excerpted in some of the court filings:

"jamfest is cancelled due to douchebags in central office. here is an email that we sent to a ton of people and asked them to forward to everyone in their address book to help get support for jamfest. basically, because we sent it out, Paula Schwartz is getting a TON of phone calls and emails and such. we have so much support and we really appriciate it. however, she got pissed off and decided to just cancel the whole thing all together. [...] And here is a letter my mom sent to Paula [Schwartz] and cc’d Karissa [Niehoff] to get an idea of what to write if you want to write something or call her to piss her off more. im down. . .

The Court of Appeals noted that adults may have a constitutional right to use vulgar or offensive speech in order to make a point, but that it "may legitimately give rise to disciplinary action by a school" if a school is responsible for "teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior." Although Avery made her statements off school grounds and outside of school hours, they were related to school activities and ultimately caused some level of disruption within the school setting. The court also noted that if Avery had distributed her comments in the form of a flier on school grounds, offensive forms of expression "may be prohibited." Avery's position as secretary was also considered a "privilege" that could be rescinded at any point, the court said, especially since her actions apparently undermined the values of the student government as an extracurricular activity.

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