The high court’s inaction Monday means the justices have never squarely addressed the parameters of off-campus, online student speech. So far, lower courts appear to be guided by a 1969 high court ruling saying student expression may not be suppressed unless school officials reasonably conclude that it will “materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.”
In that landmark case, the Supreme Court said students had a First Amendment right to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. But that precedent, which addressed on-campus speech, is now being applied to students’ online, off-campus speech four decades later.
The case the justices rejected concerned a Connecticut school district’s discipline of banning a then high-school junior from running for school office because of the 2007 vulgar blog post.
Dozens of similar cases across the nation have had varying results.
One case the lower courts decided last year went against a 14-year-old Pennsylvania junior high student, who was suspended for 10 days in 2007. She mocked her principal with a fake MySpace profile that insinuated the principal was a sex addict and pedophile.
Another case last year favored student speech of a Pennsylvania senior, who was suspended 10 days after creating a mock MySpace profile of his principal.
The profile said the principal took drugs and kept beer at his desk. The courts ruled the fake profile did not create a “substantial disruption” at school.