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Court slaps down school's punishment for off-campus pwnage

By J. DeVoy


LOS ANGELES – One morning in May 2008, an eighth-grader walked into Janice Hart’s office at a Beverly Hills middle school crying.

I love it when stories start that way.  Many of my real-life hypotheticals relate to crying, so naturally I love when the mainstream media brings it up.  Call it the Eric Cartman effect.

At the heart of the matter, a group of eighth graders posted a video to YouTube where they described the upset classmate as “spoiled,” a “brat,” and a “slut.”  In response, the school issued a two-day suspension to the girl who posted the video.  Last month, though, a Federal District Judge in Los Angeles held that this punishment went too far.

“To allow the school to cast this wide a net and suspend a student simply because another student takes offense to their speech, without any evidence that such speech caused a substantial disruption of the school’s activities, runs afoul [of the law],’’ judge Stephen V. Wilson wrote in a 60-page opinion.

“The court cannot uphold school discipline of student speech simply because young persons are unpredictable or immature, or because, in general, teenagers are emotionally fragile and may often fight over hurtful comments,’’ he wrote.

Ah, youth.  With all that cruelty comes the ability to regenerate instantly and infinitely — like Wolverine!  Wilson is correct to point out that there was no evidence of school disruption; if this conduct had caused a pattern of deteriorating academic performance, then there may be a better case to punish those in the videos.  But even then there would be serious questions about causation.

Another consideration not set forth in the article may be the fact that this behavior didn’t happen on school grounds.  Unless the YouTube video was posted from school or diminished the victim’s academic performance (noted supra), it’s hard to see why the school would have a legally recognized interest in this.

Eugene Volokh had this to say:

“People don’t appreciate how much the First Amendment protects not only political and ideological speech, but also personal nastiness and chatter. . . . If all cruel teasing led to suicide, the human race would be extinct,’’ Volokh said.

Wait, we’re raising our children to become adults by…expecting them to act like adults?  What a shocker.  Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to not kill myself every time I’m offended.


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