Student suspended for creating MySpace paraody profile of principal
Court/Assoc.: Third Circuit Court of Appeals
Attorneys/Firms: Mary Catherine Roper & Witold Walczak (ACLU-PA); Mary Kohart, A. Kristina Littman, Tara S. Sarosiek (Drinker Biddle)
The ACLU-PA filed suit and sought a temporary restraining order against the Blue Mountain School District in March 2007 on behalf of a middle school student, J.S., who was suspended for ten days for creating a parody profile of her principal on MySpace.com. After a half-day hearing, the judge denied a temporary restraining order to return the student to her classes. The judge ruled that the school district had raised concerns about whether the speech in question was protected by the First Amendment and whether the website had disrupted school.
In September 2008 a federal judge ruled that school officials did not violate J.S.'s free-speech rights when they suspended her in 2007 for creating, on her home computer, a parody profile of her principal on MySpace. The judge ruled that school officials have the authority to punish "lewd and vulgar speech" about the school or officials, even if the speech occurs outside of school.
In February 2010, a panel of the Third Circuit of Appeals ruled in favor of the school district. The same day, another panel of the Third Circuit ruled in favor of Justin Layshock, a student who had also been punished for creating an online parody of his principal.
The full Third Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in this case on June 3, 2010, and a year later it ruled in favor of J.S. and Layshock. The school districts appealed the ruling to the US Supreme Court. On January 17, 2012, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, leaving the 2011 ruling in favor of the students' free speech rights to stand.
In April 2014, the court awarded J.S. $275,450 in attorneys' fees and costs.
(See also Layshock, which was consolidated with this case.)