A growing number of school systems nationwide are trying to snuff out a high-tech twist on an age-old schoolhouse pastime–gossiping about teachers.

Mayfield Heights, Ohio, Superintendent Phillip Price said the suburban Cleveland district has blocked students from using school computers to access www.ratemyteachers.com. Students across the country log on thousands of times a day to comment on high school and middle school teachers.

Price said the school also has blocked matchmaking sites and sites that rate students’ looks, saying they serve no research or academic purpose.

The district had received complaints about the teacher-rating site, Price said.

Students “can go to that site from home. Taking time to do this during the school day is not something we would consider worthwhile,” he said.

Michael Hussey, a co-founder of the site who lives in Alfred, Maine, and graduated from the University of Maine in 2000, said he’s trying to determine whether students’ free-speech rights have been violated after he received complaints from a few students from Mayfield High School.

The site boasts more than 4 million ratings of about 713,000 teachers. Hussey said the site removes submissions that are libelous or that are attacks based on race, gender, and religion.

Ratings at Mayfield High School range from “the coolest teacher I’ve ever had” to “consider yourself lucky if you don’t know her.”

About 500 other districts nationwide also have blocked access to the site, Hussey said.

Mike Hiestand, a lawyer for the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., said his group is watching the cases because of First Amendment concerns.

“The question of whether it crosses the line legally will depend on precisely the reasons the school is giving for having done this,” he said.

Hussey defends his site as a forum for constructive criticism. He said most comments are positive.

“I think, in general, that those students who would be out to bash their teachers probably don’t even care enough to use a web site like this,” he said.

Hussey said RateMyTeachers.com receives about 30 requests a day from students and parents to add elementary schools to the site.