Kathy Riordan

Kathy Riordan
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FEBRUARY 17, 2010 12:08PM

Facebook, the First Amendment, and Anti-Teacher Rants

Rate: 18 Flag

katherineevansKatherine 'Katie' Evans, who was suspended from high school in 2007 for creating a Facebook page to rant against a teacher.  Evans' case against her former principal at Pembroke Pines Charter High School in Florida moved forward this week when a judge ruled her Facebook page fell under the protection of the First Amendment.

 

A Florida federal judge has ruled that a high school student's venting against a teacher on Facebook falls under the protection of the First Amendment.

Earlier this week, Judge Barry Garber ruled in favor of the student, Katherine Evans, 19, allowing her suit against her former high school principal, Peter Bayer, of Pembroke Pines Charter High School in Broward County, Florida, to move forward.

Evans received a three-day suspension from Pembroke Pines  in 2007 after the principal discovered a Facebook page she'd created to vent about a teacher she disliked.  An honors student, she was also removed from AP classes.  Although she removed the Facebook page two days after it was discovered, it was two months later that she received the suspension.

With the help of the Florida ACLU, Evans brought suit against Bayer in 2008 in an attempt to remove the disciplinary action from her academic record.

In his opinion, Judge Garber wrote, "Evans' speech falls under the wide umbrella of protected speech.  It was an opinion of a student about a teacher, that was published off-campus, did not cause any disruption on-campus, and was not lews, vulgar, threatening, or advocating illegal or dangerous behavior."

According to a report by the Miami Herald, Garber refused to dismiss the case, leaving open the possibility that Evans could also collect reimbursement for legal fees against Bayer if successful.  However, he did not grant the request to force removal of the suspension from her high school record, recommending she amend her complaint and solicit that from the appropriate parties.

Legal experts have been watching the case closely as one considered groundbreaking in the intersection of social media, student-school relationships, and the First Amendment.  In this case, it appears the judge supports the concept that the reach of a school, its teachers and administrators, should not exceed its grasp. 

 

On the Web:  

Complaint, US District Court, Southern District of Florida - Evans v. Bayer

 

first_amendment
 

 

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Comments

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tricky that is. I have concluded that in reality, there is no such thing as free speech, although it is a useful fiction. but thanks for posting. good luck kiddo.
In the old days we just wrote shit about our teachers on the doors to the bathroom stalls.
I'd be the most upset about getting kicked out of my AP classes... college credits are expensive and she might not get the chance to test out of the classes she was taking. Nothing sucks quite like freshman composition! Good luck to her.
I actually co-edited an underground newspaper in high school. One of my biggest regrets was writing a colorful essay about the librarian which was meant to be funny, but she took very personally. I didn't realize at the time she was widowed, raising children, and could barely make ends meet. It took time and distance to put it in perspective.
It also touches upon issues of internet privacy. As Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas is quoted as stating: "The right to be left alone is indeed the beginning of all freedoms". ~ One would think that extends to the internet too.

Thanks very much for posting this, Kathy.
How timely. Just last week we had a student removed from the presidency of National Honor Society for posting a rant on her own facebook page about a teacher who tallied votes for a pageant. Apparently the student was upset about not winning. Another girl who "liked" the post was put on probation. It caused a mild disturbance around school, but this is a different ball game because NHS has rules and expectations about "character." Last year I taught the girl--she has no internal filter whatsoever, but means well, and she wrote what I heard was a lovely and sincere apology letter to the teacher. Certainly not on a par with the case you cite, though. They kicked her out of AP classes??? How is that even possible?
What a wholesale prick to suspend someone for that. I'd fire him on the spot for that.
It's easier to suspend an honour student with an opinion than a trouble maker with a gun
All the legalities aside, this girl needs to learn the meaning of respect. There are ways to approach a teacher or any person in authority when you are dissatisfied and a page on Facebook is not it. She's going to learn the hard way as she gets older that the rules of civility apply to everyone.
Donna, you raise an excellent point that the student chose to go to a fairly public forum and now wants her record cleansed privately. As my husband's father always counseled him, "Don't ever do anything you wouldn't want to see on a billboard."
Unlike the Doninger v. Niehoff case, this girl wasn't bringing the results of her opinion into the school at all, or causing disruption.
The school overstepped, and the court made the proper ruling.
I always taught my children to approach a teacher they were having problems with after class when he/she was alone. A confrontation in front of students does nothing to bolster a case. It only puts the teacher on the defensive. Just by asking, "Mr./Mrs. whoever, did I do something wrong? You seem to be angry with me. How can I change that?" a student gains tremendous power. First, the teacher knows that this student is not afraid to speak up and will do so to others in authority if need be and secondly, the teacher is usually so surprised to have been spoken to in an adult fashion that he/she goes out of her way to make things better. If this doesn't work, that's what a principal and parental involvement is for. Not Facebook.
Maybe I could sort of buy suspension for disrepect (it's a stretch) but to kick her out of AP classes? That's an ability-based placement that she earned, and cutting off her access to the level of learning appropriate to her could affect her academic career way beyond the short-term.
Facebook is the spawn of the devil and a litigator's dream come true...
This is bad news for a character named, Tig Notaro. I vented on a blog about her after she pretty much ruined my life(as much as a life can be ruined) and this will set her and her vendetta back --big time.
Tar-Paper Shacks says to Kathy Riordan, the student, the parents, the school and its officials, and the Judge in that case, that perhaps this is the first of a series of common-sense rulings that can come about when enough people finally stand-up and say this is enough, and we are not going to take it anymore. What has happened in this instance is the epitome of what can happen when the bureaucrats who run the bureaucracy, whether it be in politics, the government, or the schools, choose to exercise their power both selectively and arbitrarily, with hidden agendas in mind, but hoping to do so while still being able to hide behind plausible deniability. Sometimes, some folks just happen to take offense at such actions.
wow. i find cases like this fascinating! xx a
Thanks for your post, Kathy - I've been following this case pretty closely. As I pointed out in my blog about this, "Speech is seldom free. It nearly always comes at a price. Quite frequently, the more thought behind the speech, the higher the cost." I appreciate you taking time to write this and give this story additional exposure.
I think Katie needs more comprehensive representation than the ACLU can provide. The First Amendment (the ACLU's concern) only protects against government restrictions on speech; it doesn't protect her from a libel suit by the teacher. Her parents should check their personal liability insurance policy.
Apparently a suspension and public apology wouldn't have been enough. Sounds like a case of resentful administrators taking the opportunity to take their suppressed feelings out on a gutsy, smart student who will go farther in life than they did. They didn't address the issue appropriately (when a student is at home, she is NOT the school's responsibility!)--instead, they chose to hit her where it hurts, by taking out of her AP classes.

What misplaced spite! What envy!

Anyone with a general capacity for logic knows that a student's eligibility for AP classes is absolutely irrelevant to her posts on an internet social site. Obviously these administrators didn't get that far, and took the liberty to be overly harsh. Nor will they understand how transparent their actions are.

Let's rant about Congress on facebook and see what happens to us!
If a teacher created a Facebook page about hating a student, s/he would be fired and the entire country would rally around the cause of protecting poor innocent children from being picked on by big mean unprofessional grown-ups. Someone mentioned teachers complaining about students on Facebook without names. There's a big difference there. I am a teacher and I sometimes do that very vaguely--no names and no identifying details. I also have everything set as private as possible, do not friend students, former students who've been out of school less than five years, or relatives of students. I taught the niece of a high school friend for three years. I turned down her aunt's friend request on Facebook until she graduated, telling her "it's not fair for you to ever have to read me complaining about your niece's class or speech team". She understood and thought I was being very professional.

But that's beside the point. Where is the concern about slander/libel in this case? If that teacher applied for another job and another administrator searched his name online (as employers are increasingly doing), how is the existence of a "Worst Teacher in the World" page on the web going to affect him? Guarantee you, it won't be positive. How is the existence of the page going to affect his reputation in the school for students he has not yet taught and their parents? Do you really believe that it did not lead to disruptions in his classroom? At the very least, it probably led to some younger students not even giving him a chance to prove himself to them, but rather coming into his classes with an attitude of disrespect.

Not to mention that the decision sends the message to teens that we do not value civility, courtesy, respect and education. Courts have ruled in the past that free speech does not necessarily extend into the school for those reasons. And the internet is available in school.
Tar-Paper Shacks says to Kathy Riordan, the student, the parents, the school and its officials, and the Judge in that case, that perhaps this is the first of a series of common-sense rulings that can come about when enough people finally stand-up and say this is enough, and we are not going to take it anymore. What has happened in this instance is the epitome of what can happen when the bureaucrats who run the bureaucracy, whether it be in politics, the government, or the schools, choose to exercise their power both selectively and arbitrarily, with hidden agendas in mind, but hoping to do so while still being able to hide behind plausible deniability. Sometimes, some folks just happen to take offense at such actions.

Please Keep Up The Good Work.

Respectfully Submitted,

Tar-Paper Shacks
When I was a teacher in the old days, kids just wrote shit about me on the doors to the bathroom stalls. In Magic Marker.