After a student at Oak Forest High School received a five-day out-of-school suspension for creating a Facebook fan page about his teacher at his home, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois questioned the school's authoritative scope.
According to a Chicago Sun-Times article, Justin Bird, a sophomore, posted the Facebook page on his own time, in his home and on his computer. The article said:
On Feb. 9, Justin created a Facebook fan page for "anyone who has had a bad experience or plain dislikes" the teacher. The page also referred to the teacher in a derogatory way.
Justin said the page was up on Facebook for five days and attracted about 50 fans. But he said nobody posted comments about the teacher on the page.
Fearing a reprimand from school officials, he took it down Feb. 14. The following day, he was called in to Dean Lillie Holman's office and notified of his suspension.
Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois said it is unclear what authority the school had to suspend Bird in the article:
American Civil Liberties Union spokesman Ed Yohnka said the organization has seen a growing trend of school officials trying to extend the scope of their authority into students' homes. Often, officials base such punishment on the vague principle of "causing a disruption to school activities," he said.
"Absent of some kind of threat, it's not clear what authority a school district has to punish a student using his own resources, in his own home and on his own time," he said.
The ACLU of Florida recently won the initial round in a case also involving Facebook and other social networking tools. The lawsuit was brought by Katherine Evans against her then Principal at Pembroke Pines Charter High School, according to a press release from the ACLU of Florida. The press release said:
While a senior at Pembroke Pines Charter School, Evans created a Facebook page entitled "Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I've ever had" from her home computer and invited other students to voice their dislike of her teacher. After several students' postings defended the teacher and berated Evans for her opinion, Evans took the page down.
The principal and teacher only became aware of the posting after it had been taken down, and never even saw it. Nevertheless, Evans was suspended for three days and removed from Advanced Placement classes as a punishment for her Internet posting. Evans sued Bayer for injunctive relief, seeking to clear her record, and nominal damages. The Principal moved to dismiss the case.
The Court's ruling recognizes that Evans' off-campus Facebook posting of her opinion about a teacher "falls under the wide umbrella of protected speech. It was a student's opinion about a teacher, which was published off campus, did not cause any disruption on campus, and was not lewd, vulgar, threatening, or advocating illegal or dangerous behavior."
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the ACLU of Florida's case may influence Bird's school district's decision to expunge the suspension from his record.