Schools Can Punish Students For Off-Campus Online Speech
Public schools may discipline pupils for their online speech spoken off-campus, a federal appeals court ruled Monday in two long-running cases testing student speech in the online world. However, in the cases decided Monday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Pennsylvania school districts overreacted and breached the First Amendment rights of two students by disciplining them for mocking their principals online, using computers that were off the campus. The Philadelphia-based appellate court cautioned that not all off-campus, student speech was protected. It based that conclusion on a 1969 Supreme Court ruling that held student expression may not be suppressed unless school officials reasonably conclude that it will “materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.” In that landmark case, the Supreme Court said students had a First Amendment right to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. But that precedent, which addressed on-campus speech, is now being applied to students’ off-campus, online speech four decades later — a conclusion that some members of the court noted was wrong.
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