Layshock v. Hermitage School District

650 F.3d 205 (3d Cir. 2011)

In December 2005, high school senior Justin Layshock created a MySpace page parodying his principal Eric Trosch. Layshock used a photograph of Trosch he found on the school district’s website and answered a series of survey questions to fill out the profile that mocked the principal. School administrators questioned Layshock about the profile, and he admitted to creating it and apologized to Trosch. Later, Layshock learned he was being suspended and placed in an alternative education program for the remainder of the year.

Layshock’s parents sued the school district, arguing that punishing their son for off-campus speech was a violation of his First Amendment rights. The school countered that while his speech was made off-campus, it still made its way into the school and disrupted operations. A district court ruled in favor of Layshock.

The SPLC filed an amicus brief arguing that Supreme Court precedent prohibits a school from punishing students for off-campus speech and, although lewd and offensive, Layshock’s speech did not create a sizable disruption to the school.

In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in favor of Layshock, finding that his use of a photo from the district website did not create a nexus between the school and the online profile and the school did not have the authority to punish Layshock for speech that occurred outside of school, even if it was lewd and offensive. 

Read the opinion.