On January 1, 2012, Illinois H.B. 3281, which allows school boards and administrators to suspend or expel a student if that student threatens a school employee, another student or any school-related personnel on the Internet or any social networking website, took effect, reports the Belleville News-Democrat. According to state Rep. Dwight Kay, who sponsored the bill, ”Bullying no longer takes place only at school. Bullies use the Internet to follow their victim home and harass them through social networking.” Kay noted the bill “gives school boards and administrators a way to deal with online threats from students towards other students, faculty or anyone else.”
Source: Belleville News-Democrat, 12/30/11, By Staff
[Editor's Note: The Illinois Association of School Boardsdescribes the law in its Digest of Bills Passed. A school board or, by delegation, an administrator may suspend or expel a student if: (1) he/she has been determined to have made an explicit threat on an Internet website against a school employee, a student, or any school-related personnel, (2) the Internet website through which the threat was made is a site that was accessible within the school at the time the threat was made or was available to third parties who worked or studied within the school grounds at the time the threat was made, and (3) the threat could be reasonably interpreted as threatening to the safety and security of the threatened individual because of his or her duties or employment status or status as a student inside the school.
On January 13, 2012, the justice of the U.S. Supreme Court will conference to discuss whether to grant review in two separate cases involving students who were disciplined for off-campus, online offensive speech. In Kowalski v. Berkeley Cnty Sch., Docket No. 11-461, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (MD, NC, SC, VA, WV) held that a school district, which disciplined a student for off-campus Internet activity, did not violate the student’s First Amendment free speech rights. The panel concluded that the school district had authority under the substantial disruption standard established in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969), to discipline the student for speech that originated off-campus because, given the reach of the Internet, it was reasonably foreseeable that the speech would reach the school.
In J.S. v. Blue Mountain Sch. Dist., Docket No. 11-502, which has been consolidated with Layshock v. Hermitage Sch. Dist., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (PA, NJ, DE, VI), sitting en banc (all active judges participating), held that a Pennsylvania school district violated a student’s First Amendment free speech rights when it disciplined her for creating, off-campus on a home computer, a parody MySpace profile page of her middle school’s principal. The parody contained vulgar, lewd and false statements about the principal. The court’s decision was one of two en banc rulings issued on the same day, the other being Layshock, finding that the school district defendant had violated the student’s First Amendment right to free speech when it disciplined the student for similar off-campus online speech.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA), which rarely weighs in at the petition stage in Supreme Court cases, filed an amicus brief in support of Blue Mountain School District and Hermitage School District seeking review of the Third Circuit's decisions. In a November 2011 Sua Sponte item, Legal Clips described the arguments in NSBA's brief . NSBA notes that the Internet generally, and social networking specifically, have so changed the nature of communication among youth that it is urgent for the Court to provide guidance to school administrators on the bounds of their authority to regulate speech that occurs there. School officials need some authority, NSBA argues, to regulate student speech that originates off campus to fulfill the schools’ educational mission to teach the bounds of civil discourse, and to address student bullying. Finally, the NSBA brief suggests to the Court a need for balance in school officials’ authority and responsibility for student off-campus online speech.]