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Judge orders Missouri students back to school while their off-campus speech lawsuit proceeds

(03/23/12 5:20pm)

A judge ruled two Lee’s Summit North High School students can return to school April 9 after being suspended for 180 days because of their blog, Steven and Sean Wilson are being allowed to return to school after creating and posting blog posts on the website, which district officials claimed disrupted the educational process. Senior U.S.

From the "Right Not to Be Annoyed" Department ... where do you go to report annoying legislation?

(03/28/12 7:24pm)

In their never-ending quest to make Connecticut a less annoying place, state legislators -- apparently having solved unemployment, crime and school funding -- have trained their sights on annoying speech. A bill introduced March 22 by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- which is up for a hearing in that committee Thursday -- would create the new misdemeanor criminal offense of "Electronic Harassment." (Note to Dave Barry: "Electronic Harassment" would be an exceptional name for a band.) A person would be guilty of the crime of "Electronic Harassment" under the following conditions: (1) Transmitting information over any electronic medium (anything from radio to the Web to texting), (2) that is based on a person's "actual or perceived traits or characteristics," (3) that causes a person "substantial embarrassment or humiliation within an academic or professional community," and (4) is done with an intent to "annoy" or "alarm" the person. Read that carefully, and think about how much First Amendment real estate it covers. For example ... how about this Al Franken column, "Rush Limbaugh is still a big fat idiot." Transmitted electronically?

The joke is on these college editors -- offensive April Fool's humor can backfire, badly

(04/07/12 12:37pm)

T.S. Eliot was right. April is the cruellest month -- if you're the editor of a college newspaper.Like the blooming of cherry blossoms and the return of the robins, April reliably brings the painful and entirely unnecessary self-destruction of some student journalists' careers, when attempts at April Fool's humor go horribly wrong.Each year, parody editions of campus newspapers push the boundaries of good taste -- and occasionally, good judgment.

Judge finds third Nebraska student's rights were not violated in "RIP" dispute

(04/23/12 3:37pm)

A federal judge ruled in favor of the Millard Public School District on Monday, after a jury was unable to decide whether the district violated a student’s First Amendment rights when she was disciplined for wearing “RIP” clothing. Cassie, Dan and Nick Kuhr were suspended for wearing “Julius RIP” clothing and accessories following the death of a friend in gang-related violence.

Indiana journalism teacher settles First Amendment lawsuit involving newspaper, yearbook

(04/24/12 3:30pm)

An Indiana high school newspaper and yearbook adviser has settled her lawsuit against Greater Clark County Schools, though the terms are not yet known. Kelly Short sued the public school corporation in January, claiming school officials retaliated against her for supporting the First Amendment rights of students.

Ind. students, school settle 'penis pops' online speech case without money damages

(05/29/12 4:52pm)

A pair of Indiana students will not receive money damages from the school district that punished them for Facebook photos, despite a judge ruling in their favor. The students have settled their free speech lawsuit against the Smith-Green Community School Corporation. Under the settlement, the students will not receive damages or attorney’s fees, but the school corporation is prohibited from enforcing provisions in its student handbook that allowed the students to be punished after posting pictures of themselves with penis-shaped lollipops. The school corporation can no longer enforce provisions that allow students to be removed from extracurricular activities because the students act “in a manner in school or out of school that brings discredit or dishonor upon [the students] or [the] school,” Judge Philip Simon wrote in a final judgment issued Tuesday. The order makes permanent an injunction from August, and comes nearly three years after two 10th-grade girls were suspended from the Churubusco High School volleyball team and other extracurricular activities after posing with the “phallic-shaped rainbow colored lollipops.” In Simon's earlier ruling, he found the students had engaged in protected speech when they posted the photos at home on their own time.

Seattle college paper returns to print four years after censorship controversy

(06/15/12 3:17pm)

Four years after its print edition was canceled, The New City Collegian is back in business — for one day, at least. On Tuesday, the student newspaper at Seattle Central Community College published its first print edition since 2008, when it found itself at the center of a national censorship debate that resulted in the elimination of all funding for the newspaper and the resignation of the faculty adviser. The newspaper has been operating as an online-only publication since that time.

Minnesota Supreme Court rules against college student in off-campus speech case

(06/19/12 7:36pm)

Update: The Court has ruled against Amanda Tatro, holding that "a university may regulate student speech on Facebook that violates established professional conduct standards," where the restrictions on speech are "narrowly tailored and directly related to established professional conduct standards." They declined to apply either Hazelwood or Tinker. SEE OUR NEWS FLASH FOR DETAILS ON THE DECISION ------------------- We're expecting a significant court decision tomorrow morning (Wednesday) on the First Amendment rights of college and university students, particularly when posting about their schools on social media. The case involves Amanda Tatro, a former mortuary sciences student at the University of Minnesota who posted comments on Facebook about "playing" with a cadaver in her anatomy class and wanting to stab someone with an embalming tool.

University of Minnesota ruling plows new legal ground -- straight across the First Amendment

(06/24/12 3:21pm)

There's a pivotal scene in the first theatrical "X-Files" film where David Duchovny's Agent Fox Mulder, idling at a crossroads as he ponders which way to turn in pursuit of a fleeing suspect, instinctively stomps the pedal and barrels straight ahead across unpaved prairie. Plowing your own road is a thrilling move -- for a fictional hero in a sci-fi thriller.

Amanda Tatro, who fought free speech battle against the University of Minnesota, dead at 31

(06/26/12 12:40pm)

Amanda Tatro, who less than a week ago lost a high-profile First Amendment case in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court, was found dead in her apartment Tuesday morning, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed. She was 31. A friend of Tatro’s told a City Pages blog that her husband had found her lying on the couch unresponsive when he woke up Tuesday morning.

Report: Free speech awareness rises in 2012, support for off-campus speech rights about the same

(07/17/12 5:35pm)

Fifty-seven percent of Americans believe that public schools should not be able to punish students for posting “offensive” content on social media, according to the latest installment of the First Amendment Center’s State of the First Amendment report. The 2012 report was released Tuesday, and while some of its findings continue to paint a grim picture for appreciation and knowledge of the First Amendment — 27 percent of Americans were unable to name any of its five freedoms, fairly consistent with last year’s results — a few responses are more optimistic for the future of the First Amendment inside and outside the schoolhouse gates. Just 13 percent of respondents believed the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees, the lowest total in the past decade. National awareness of freedom of speech as a First Amendment-protected right jumped from previous years; 65 percent of those responding were able to volunteer "speech" as a protected right.

N.J. court: Schools can't withhold extracurriculars to play "good behavior police" for off-campus misconduct

(07/26/12 6:21pm)

When schools seek to punish students' off-campus behavior on blogs and social networking sites, their "penalty of choice" often is revoking students' eligibility for sports, honor societies and other extracurricular activities. That's because judges generally have given schools almost unlimited latitude to decide who may take part in after-school clubs that aren't considered central to the free public education to which every student is legally entitled. But a new ruling from a New Jersey appellate court torpedoes that distinction, and calls into question schools' widespread practice of withholding extracurricular activities to punish uncivil speech on the Web. In G.D.M.