Jan 31

Supreme Court Disappoints : Refuses to Hear Cyber-Bullying Cases

The United States Supreme Court took the easy way out recently by refusing to grant certiorari in three cyber-bullying cases. Two of the cases, J.S. v. Blue Mountain and Layshock v. Hermitage were appeals from the 3rd Circuit while Kowalksi v. Berkeley County was an appeal from our own 4th Circuit.
Both J.S. and Layshock involved a student who created fake MySpace profiles off school grounds where they assumed the identity of the principal and used lewd and vulgar language attributed to the principal. Kowalski involved a student who created a website that used inappropriate language to berate a classmate. In all three cases, school administrators disciplined the student for the behavior. All three cases were appealed to federal court arguing a violation of the first amendment right to freedom of speech.

In J.S. and Layshock, the 3rd Circuit ruled in favor of the students noting that the off school grounds speech did not create a material disruption in school as required in Tinker v. Des Moines. Thus, without a clear nexus between the speech and school disruption, school officials could not discipline.

In Kowalski, the 4th Circuit supported the school and allowed the discipline to stand. The court also relied on Tinker v. Des Moines by noting speech that violates the rights of others is not protected by the Constitution. For further information about this case, see “Cyberbullying and Public Schools” in Principal Insight Edulog (October 12, 2011.

Many followers of school law thought the Supreme Court had a great opportunity to address the issue of cyber-bullying, and that the Court would take this opportunity to provide guidance to school officials. Instead, the Supreme Court denied review of all three Internet speech cases. This means it will be at least another year before the Supreme Court weighs in on the issue.