Constitutional Law

3rd Cir. Creates 'Chaos' with Conflicting Rulings on Student MySpace Principal Parodies

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Two panels in different districts of one federal appeals court made apparently conflicting rulings yesterday in cases over students in two separate Pennsylvania school districts who posted similar parodies of their principals on MySpace, using computers at their homes.

One divided three-judge panel in the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued an opinion (PDF) upholding the suspension of a Schuylkill County eighth-grader, saying that her lewd, sexually graphic portrayal of the principal—using his actual photograph—disrupted school operations.

But another panel, in the Western District of Pennsylvania, ruled (PDF) that Mercer County school officials lacked authority to police a senior’s use of the Internet from his home, at least absent a showing that a substantial disruption of the learning environment trumped his First Amendment rights, according to the Associated Press.

“The law was unclear, and now it’s in a state of chaos,” says attorney Witold Walczak, who participated in the Mercer County case on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Related earlier coverage:

ABA Journal: “No More Pencils, No More Facebooks” “Discipline Over Student’s Facebook Comments Sparks Lawsuit” “Study This, Mr. Principal: Student Wins Web Case”

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