Facebook, the First Amendment, and Anti-Teacher Rants
Katherine '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.
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