This story is disturbing on many levels.
In a nutshell, two students at two separate schools created fake profiles of their school principals on MySpace and posted many derogatory things about the principals, as if the statements were made by the principals themselves. When this was discovered, the students were punished by their respective schools. The ACLU jumped in arguing the schools had violated the students first amendment rights and had no jurisdiction in punishment since this did not take place during school hours and with use of school property.
In the first case, which can be found here, former student Justin Layshock used his grandmother's computer and created a fake profile of his principal making statements that the principal shoplifted, used drugs and steroids. While in the second case which is found here, a minor student who was not named used a computer at an off-campus location and created a profile of her principal making statements using sexually explicit language.
According to the AP, the Third Circuit ruled "in favor of both students, concluding that their online postings, however lewd or offensive, were not likely to cause significant disruptions at school and therefore constitute protected free speech."
So...if it is not disruptive it's ok and if it is disruptive it's not ok? Who decides if it is disruptive or not? How can posting derogatory information about someone as if it comes from them, for millions to see, not be disruptive? The ability of the principal to run his/her school is dependent on the principals authority and integrity. Wouldn't it be a fair assumption that when a person is defamed in such a manner, it does have repercussions on their reputation? Wouldn't their ability to effectively run the institution be in some way damaged?
The principals of these schools can still file civil lawsuits against these kids and their families for defamation but what will that accomplish? Parents can control their kids actions only so much. Taking everything the family owns to teach a lesson doesn't work. I don't know what punishment was handed out by the parents but nothing they could do to these kids could be ever be enough to emphasize the impact of their actions.
Kids have to be taught that actions have consequences. This begins at home and extends to school and beyond. Adults who have contact with children in some way, shape, or form have a responsibility to be good role models and teach this lesson. Kids need to be made to understand that making the decision to harm another human being in any manner has severe repercussions, is considered unacceptable in a civilized society and is subject to punishment.
When I graduated from high school nearly 25 years ago, this kind of behavior would not have been tolerated, not by parents and not by the school officials. Unlike today, the parents and school officials during my school days would have been on the same page in regards to punishment and the parents never would have considered calling the ACLU for help. The rule back then was you play, you pay, period.
My how far we've come.