Friday, February 19, 2010

Student's Facebook Rant Protected by First Amendment

In 2007 a senior at Pembroke Pines Charter High School, Katherine Evans, created a Facebook page on which she claimed one of her teachers was "the worst teacher I've ever met. To those students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred." A few days later, Evans removed the page. Two months after Evans had removed the page, the principal suspended Evans for three days for cyber-bullying a staff member and removed Evans from the AP English class. Evans filed suit against the principal asking that the suspension be removed from her record. The principal asked for the suit to be dismissed.

Earlier this week a federal magistrate weighed in on the case and declared, "Evans' free speech falls under the wide umbrella of protected speech. It was an opinion of a student about a teacher, that was published off-campus, did not cause any disruption on-campus, and was not lewd, vulgar, threatening, or advocating illegal or dangerous behavior," and that Evans' rant "falls under the wide umbrella of protected speech." In other words, Evans' rant was protected under the First Amendment. Therefore, the suit against the principal will not be dismissed but rather will be allowed to move forward once it is amended so that it no longer requests a removal of the suspension from her record.

At this point, the story has garnered national attention and the ACLU is involved. I believe, and so do a number of experts on First Amendment law, this case will be important.

As I've processed all the articles and information about this case over the last few days, here are some points that are worthy of consideration. I'm not weighing in on any of these but am offering them up for thought and for discussion.
  • Did the school's student handbook expressly prohibit students from referencing the school or school employees on a website or social media site? If so, would (should) this even be an issue now? If not, on what basis did the principal punish Evans?
  • Did the school's principal err in his judgment to suspend Evans for three days (and remove her from her AP English class) considering first, the Facebook page came down only a few days after it went up; second, the page contained nothing but her opinion and was, in fact, neither alarming nor obscene; third, the incident was dealt with two months after the page came down?
  • Would events have unfolded any differently if the principal discovered the page, asked Evans to remove it, and Evans complied? Would events have unfolded any differently if the principal had discovered the page, asked Evans to remove it, and Evans refused?

I will be watching this story carefully and will post updates as they become available.

On a side note, I find it only fitting that Evans currently is enrolled in the University of Florida and is studying journalism.

If you're interested in more articles about the case, click HERE.

6 comments:

Marja said...

Will this case be the precedence for those to come? I anxiously await the unfolding of this event as well. Thanks for posting.

Jim Brown said...

It certainly seems like an interesting case. Unfortunatly a lot of what gets posted, or could get posted, on Facebook, can be very damaging to people, staff and other students.
I've always heard that you don't want to write anything on a computer that you don't want read in the principal's office.

元氣 said...

加油啦!要繼續發表好文章喔!........................................

Nathan Barber said...

Marja,
I do think once the actual case moves forward it may set a major precedent. Many will be keeping a close eye on the outcome. No matter what happens with the case, you can bet it will be appealed.

Jim,
You're exactly right.

元氣,
Thanks for the kind words. i had my Chinese exchange student translate for me and I appreciate the feedback. I will try to keep up the good work.

Urbanedge said...

Hmm! Interesting looking forward of the updates of this topic, thanks!
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Aot said...

It’s good that facebook implemented this first amendment. There are a lot of case like Evan’s, going on facebook… thanks for sharing the story.
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