Third Circuit holds that vulgar MySpace profile created off school grounds did not cause “substantial disruption” at the school to justify student’s ten-day suspension
By Michael Adelman – Edited by Abby Lauer
J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, No. 08-4138 (3d Cir. June 13, 2011)
The Third Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed and remanded the Middle District of Pennsylvania’s ruling that suspension was an appropriate punishment for a student who created a fake MySpace account that made fun of her middle school principal. The court also affirmed the District Court’s ruling that the school district’s policies were not overbroad or void-for-vagueness.
The Third Circuit held that the fake MySpace profile, while vulgar and offensive, did not cause the type of “substantial disruption” which would have justified the ten-day suspension of the student. The profile was not accessible on any school computers (due to a filter), and while the school district asserted that the profile caused “general rumblings,” it could not point to any major disruption of classroom activities caused by the profile. The court applied the framework from Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), to analyze whether the student’s posting materially interfered with school activities, but it declined to directly address whether Tinker is limited to speech that occurs on campus.
Education Tech News provides an overview of this case, and the companion case Layshock v. Hermitage School District, No. 07-4465 (3d Cir. June 13, 2011) (involving another student who created a fake MySpace profile making fun of his principal). The Digest previously covered these cases when they were heard by Third Circuit panels and resulted in seemingly contradictory decisions. Wired provides a thorough analysis of the decision, noting that the Supreme Court “has not squarely addressed the student-speech issue as it applies to the digital world” and speculating that these “decisions might give the justices fodder to do so.” (more…)