Ruling protecting online speech survives

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday left in place a lower-court ruling saying students are protected by the First Amendment when attacking school officials online.

The case involved a Pennsylvania eighth-grader who, away from school property, used her MySpace Web site to lampoon her principal online as a sex pervert, with liberal use of the "F bomb."


The Blue Mountain School District covers several communities in eastern Pennsylvania. The eight-grader, an honor student identified only as J.S. in court documents, was still smarting over two citations for violations of the dress code at Blue Mountain Middle School in March 2007 when she and a fellow eighth-grader, K.L., created a fake profile of Principal James McGonigle on the social networking Web site MySpace.

When J.S. was suspended from school for 10 days, her family sued in federal court.

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Eventually, the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, headquartered in Philadelphia, ruled 8-6 that the school district violated J.S.'s First Amendment free speech rights when it suspended her for creating the profile.

"Because J.S. was suspended from school for speech that indisputably caused no substantial disruption in school and that could not reasonably have led school officials to forecast substantial disruption in school," the majority said, "the school district's actions violated J.S.'s First Amendment free speech rights."


The case of the eighth-grader drew the attention of the National School Boards Association and other educational groups, who urged the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the dispute given its importance and "the explosion of social networking."

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The high court's refusal to hear the case sets no precedent, and doesn't prevent the justices from reviewing the issue in a future case.

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