Pennsylvania volleyball player continues court fight over Internet ‘trash talk’

A former Pittsburgh area high school student is continuing his fight against administrators who kicked him off the volleyball team for making negative comments in an Internet chat room.

Attorneys for Jack Flaherty are seeking a permanent injunction in federal court to bar the Keystone Oaks School District from punishing students for off-campus speech, something they say the school district is fiercely resisting. The ruling could affect how other schools can discipline students for off-campus speech.

School officials cut Flaherty from the team after he made the comments on a forum for western Pennsylvania volleyball players. Flaherty has since graduated. According to his attorney, Vic Walczak, the messages were nothing but “trash talk” about players on opposing teams.

In April, a federal court ordered the school district to reinstate Flaherty, but the coach resigned and the school refused to hire a replacement. The team forfeited the final nine games of the season.

Walczak petitioned for a contempt charge against the school for evading the court order by ending the team’s season, but it was denied in June. Walczak said the school needs to be taught a lesson about following the Constitution.

“We think the defendants violated at least the spirit if not the letter of a federal court order in a constitutional law case,” he said. “Frankly, there have to be repercussions for that.”

Superintendent Carl DeJulio declined to comment about the litigation and school attorneys did not return several phone calls made to their offices.

Walczak said the case has been a tough battle and may drag on for months until a judge decides whether to permanently bar the district from punishing students for off-campus speech.

“They’re fighting us tooth and nail,” he said. “It’s been nasty litigation”