Cyber-bullying policy stands despite ruling

 

By Michelle Nosratian

A Beverly Hills school that suspended a middle school student for cyber-bullying violated her 1st Amendment rights, a Los Angeles federal court has ruled.

The ruling addresses the question of whether school administrations can have jurisdiction over the verbal conduct of students outside of school.

“To allow the school to cast this wide net and suspend a student simply because another student takes offense to their speech, without any evidence that such speech caused a substantial disruption of the school’s activities, runs afoul” of the law, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson wrote in his decision.

“The court cannot uphold school discipline of student speech simply because young persons are unpredictable or immature, or because teenagers may often fight over hurtful comments,” he wrote.

Harvard-Westlake’s policy, spelled out in the Student Parent Handbook, maintains that if a student makes a serious threat using school computers or makes negative comments about another student while identifying him or herself as a Harvard-Westlake student from their home computer, the school has the right to punish the student.

“If someone is using hardware or software or networks supplied by the school, then it is an honor code issue,” math teacher and Educational Technology Committee Chairman Jeff Snapp said.

“It really doesn’t go back to whether it is a school computer or not, it goes back to who you want in your community, and as a private independent school, we have the opportunity to say who we want in our community,” Salamandra said. “I know public schools don’t have that opportunity but we do.”

The administration has many ways of dealing with online transgressions, running the spectrum from a slap on the wrist to expulsion.

“We over the years have evolved and changed things so that now online harassment is more strictly punishable,” he said.

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