PHILADELPHIA — A US appeals court heard arguments yesterday over whether school officials can discipline students for making lewd, harassing, or juvenile Internet postings from off-campus computers.
Two students from two different Pennsylvania school districts are fighting suspensions they received for posting derisive profiles of their principals on MySpace from home computers. The American Civil Liberties Union argued that school officials infringe on student’s free speech rights when they reach beyond school grounds in such cases to impose discipline.
“While children are in school, they are under the custody and tutelage of the school,’’ ACLU lawyer Witold Walczak argued yesterday in the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. “Once they leave the schoolhouse gate, you’ve got parents that come into play.’’
A lawyer for the Hermitage School District in western Pennsylvania offered a different view.
“It’s not a matter of where you throw the grenade; it’s where the grenade lands,’’ Anthony Sanchez said.
A 14-year-old Blue Mountain student described her principal as a pedophile on a fake profile. The girl later apologized, took down the page, and was suspended for 10 days.
In the other case, Hickory High School senior Justin Layshock created an online parody, saying his principal smoked marijuana and kept beer behind his desk. Layshock was suspended and the principal sued him.