Layshock v. Hermitage School District

Student punished for MySpace parody of principal

Court/Assoc.: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Attorneys/Firms: Kim Watterson (Reed Smith); Vic Walczak (ACLU-PA)

In early 2006, the ACLU filed suit against Hermitage School District (Mercer Co.) for suspending Hickory High School senior Justin Layshock because he created an online parody of his principal. In addition to a 10-day, out-of-school suspension, the administration ordered him to finish high school in the Alternative Education Program and forbid him from attending his own graduation in the spring. The school eventually permitted Justin to attend his regular classes, and he graduated in Spring 2006.

On July 10, 2007, a federal judge ruled that the school's suspension had been unconstitutional and ordered a jury trial to determine whether Justin is entitled to compensatory damages for the school district's violation of his First Amendment rights.

In February 2010, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit of Appeals ruled that the school district had violated Justin's First Amendment free speech rights. The same day, another panel of the Third Circuit ruled against J.S., a student who had also been punished for creating a parody MySpace page for her 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 2012, the district agreed to pay plaintiffs $15,000 in damages and $506,500 in attorneys’ fees to settle the case.

See also J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, which was consolidated with this case.

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