Judge rules e-mail grounds for expulsion

NEW JERSEY — A New Jersey appellate court ruled last August, in a unpublished decision, that the Peddie School’s decision to dismiss a student who violated a school-disciplinary rule by “bullying others” via e-mail is acceptable.

Bruce Chiarello was expelled after distributing racial and sexual “hate speech” on the school’s e-mail system. He appealed the decision saying that his First Amendment rights were violated.

The court said Chiarello had signed an enrollment contract at the private school that obliged him to accept the rules and regulations in the student handbook. Peddie’s student handbook lists several “major school rules” and notes that the violation of a major school rule may lead to “immediate dismissal.”

Major school rule number one states that the students must “have consideration for the personal and material rights of others. In other words, bullying others, destroying property, and stealing from others are totally unacceptable behaviors.”

According to Peddie’s major school rules, educators can place reasonable restrictions on free speech. “The attempt to control the speech was in a non-public forum,” the court said in Chiarello v. the Peddie School, No. A-4455-93 (App. Div. Aug. 15, 1995). “It was private conduct at a private boarding school.”

reports, Spring 1996