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Free Speech Rights Of Students

feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - What are the free speech rights of students to post mean things on a website that they write off campus and not during school hours?

When twin teenage brothers in Missouri decided to set up a blog to “vent” (a word that should strike fear into the hearts of parents who know what a teenage vent sounds like), they may not have realized that they’d gain national notoriety. And probably not in the way they (or their parents) would have hoped.

The twins’ blog, written at home on their free time, contained sexually explicit language in reference to named female students at their school, and was riddled with racially offensive language. When the school found out, the students were suspended for 180 days. They sued, saying that they had the right to free speech.

While students don’t “shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse door,” the Supreme court has said that a school district can censor a student’s free speech if it “substantially interfere[s] with the requirements of appropriate discipline.” The Court found that the teenagers’ site caused such a buzz at school it disrupted normal activity and upheld the suspension.

At least the kids got a real lesson in social studies while they were making legal history.