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Ruling backs school in internet free-speech case

A federal judge has ruled that Burlington, Conn., school officials acted within their rights to discipline a student for an internet posting she wrote off school grounds, reports the Boston Globe. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz rejected Avery Doninger’s claim that administrators at Lewis B. Mills High School violated her rights of free speech and equal protection. She also alleged they inflicted emotional distress when they barred her from serving as class secretary because of the 2007 posting, which criticized the administrators for canceling a popular school activity. Kravitz’s ruling relied partly on the ambiguity over whether schools can regulate students’ expression on the internet. He noted in his ruling that times have changed since 1979, when a landmark student speech case set boundaries for schools regulating off-campus speech. Now, he wrote, students can send eMails to hundreds of classmates at a time or post entries that can be read instantly by students, teachers, and administrators. "Off-campus speech can become on-campus speech with the click of a mouse," Kravitz wrote. Kravitz cited previous rulings in his decision that school administrators were entitled to qualified immunity. That shields public officials from lawsuits for damages unless they violate clearly established rights that a reasonable official would have known. The officials could not reasonably be expected "to predict where the line between on- and off-campus speech will be drawn in this new digital era," he wrote. Doninger’s attorney, Jon Schoenhorn, plans to appeal the ruling and said the case may ultimately have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court…

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