Sally Henson is a new student at Middle Lake High School. Leslie, a senior at Middle Lake, does not like Sally. Leslie goes home after school one day, and, using her home computer, creates a Facebook group entitled, “S.A.S.H.” She later tells her parents and the school principal that S.A.S.H. stands for Students Against Silly Hoochies, but everyone else at the high school will tell you that it also stands for Students Against Sally Henson. Leslie invites all of her Facebook friends who attend the same high school to join the page. Members to the group can post and respond to comments and photographs on the webpage. This webpage is devoted to bullying and making fun of Sally Henson. Two of Leslie’s Facebook friends, John and Debbie, get on Facebook during a computer class at school using a school computer, join the group, and post pictures they have taken of Sally Henson at school, without Sally’s knowledge. They have “photoshopped” these pictures in inappropriate ways. Other students comment on these pictures, and write other derogatory comments about Sally. Sally finds out about the website and no longer wants to go to school. When her parents ask her why, she shows them the webpage, and they immediately contact the school principal. The school board and the school principal suspend Leslie for five days. Leslie wants to challenge her suspension.
What Constitutional Amendment is at issue here? [The First Amendment] NOTE: Due process rights were also at issue here, and the court held the school did not violate the student’s due process rights by suspending her, without a hearing, for her conduct.
What do you think the First Amendment protects? [Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and petition the government for a redress of grievances.”]
What do you think the Court held? [The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the school did not violate Leslie’s free speech rights by suspending her for creating and posting to the webpage.]
Do you think the Court got it right? Do you think Leslie had a right to free speech in creating and posting to the webpage? Why or why not?
Why could the Court punish her for a website she created at home? [Defendant “used the Internet to orchestrate a targeted attack on a classmate, and did so in a manner that was sufficiently connected to the school environment as to implicate the School District’s recognized authority to discipline speech which ‘materially and substantially interfere[s] with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school and collid[es] with the rights of others.’”]