As the Internet becomes more accessible to high school students, a variety of problems are arising regarding the rights of students to access and disseminate information over the Web or via e-mail.
In Pennsylvania, a former Keystone Oaks High School student is continuing his lawsuit against administrators who kicked him off the volleyball team for making derogatory comments in an Internet chat room.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pittsburgh filed an amended complaint on behalf of Jack Flaherty asking for damages and a permanent injunction that would bar the school from punishing students for off-campus speech.
Flaherty, who has since graduated, was cut from the team after he made disparaging comments on an Internet forum for western Pennsylvania volleyball players. He made the comments about the mother of a player on a rival team, who happens to be an art teacher at Keystone Oaks. Pittsburgh ACLU director Vic Walczak said the messages were nothing more than ‘trash talk’ about players on opposing teams.
Originally, a federal court ordered the school 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.
After losing a First Amendment appeal with the Rhode Island Department of Education, Cumberland High School sophomore Derek Dubois was forced to serve the remainder of a 10-day suspension in September for a song he wrote about his eighth-grade English teacher.
Cumberland High School suspended Dubois, then a freshman, for violating the district’s sexual harassment policy. The song’s lyrics included sexual references to the teacher, and were made available through Napster, a file-sharing service, where several students downloaded and listened to it.
‘The song was not a private communication,’ the department’s decision states. ‘[Dubois] posted it on the Internet. By doing so, [Dubois] extended the ramifications of his conduct far beyond the computer at his home.’
Attorney John Dineen, who represented Dubois on behalf on the American Civil Liberties Union, said that because the case was not tried in court, the decision is not a legally binding precedent.
Meanwhile, in Virginia, the creator of an independent Web site was threatened with five days suspension until he removed all references to his high school.
Jay Krushinski, a senior at Woodbridge High School, created a senior class Web site off campus without any use of school equipment. The school’s name was mentioned only once on the home page, which contained a disclaimer stating the school had nothing to do with the site.
Nevertheless, the school forced Krushinski to agree not to use the high school name or logo.