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Student can re-enroll after blog dispute

A University of Louisville nursing student expelled over blog posts about an assignment to follow a woman the day she gave birth has won the right to return to school from a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Charles Simpson ruled Monday that Nina Yoder, who was dismissed from school on March 2, can re-enroll because the school violated a contractual agreement with her in the dismissal.

Yoder’s attorney, Dan Canon of Louisville, said Yoder plans to re-enroll as soon as possible.

"It’s just a few months until she graduates,’ Canon told The Associated Press.

Yoder was dismissed after the university ran across her blog on a MySpace page. The blog covered a variety of topics, including religion, sex, guns, and politics. She mentioned the university several times but revealed no patient names in postings.

University spokesman Mark Hebert said university lawyers and administrators at the nursing school will review the judge’s decision.

The school dismissed Yoder on March 2, saying in a letter that she violated the school’s honor code and confidentiality agreement by posting blog items concerning patient activities and naming the university on her MySpace page.

The judge sidestepped the constitutional and free-speech questions raised in the lawsuit. Instead, he focused on how the honor code and confidentiality agreement students must sign are written and explained.

"Upon review of the relevant texts, the court finds that the blog post does not violate either of these two agreements,’ Simpson wrote in a 12-page decision.

The blog post that resulted in Yoder’s dismissal involved an assignment to follow a pregnant woman through the birthing process. In the post, Yoder criticizes the woman she finds to follow, as well as pregnant women at the hospital in general.

After detailing the birth, Yoder ended on a note Simpson called “positive _ life-affirming, even _ if perversely so.’

"I came to work, overwhelmed with emotions and new knowledge and experience,’ Yoder wrote. “I sat down, looked around and once again proved that women are FREAKING STUPID and don’t learn from their past mistakes. I said: ‘I want another baby!’

David L. Hudson, Jr., a scholar at the First Amendment Center and an author of 20 books — some addressing student rights — said the University of Louisville case is the latest in a series of questionable decisions by higher-education officials when faced with students’ web-based writing.

"The whole situation is emblematic of a growing trend of punishing people for their online expression," said Hudson, who teaches courses at Vanderbilt University Law School and the Nashville School of Law. "Many people act as if the internet is a legal-free zone and it is anything but."

Hudson said he did not expect Simpson’s decision to affect future cases that pit student blogs against educational institutions.

"This was a well-reasoned decision, though it did not reach larger constitutional free-speech issues," he said. "The judge pointed out that the school could apply its honor code more broadly if it changed the policy and provided fair notice."

Simpson described Yoder’s take on women, motherhood and childbirth as “for the most part, crass and uncouth,’ but not in violation of the ambiguous wording of the honor code and confidentiality agreements.

"To be sure, Yoder’s attempt at humor was an abject failure,’ Simpson wrote.

Yoder also frequently wrote about guns and her opposition to gun control laws and posted pictures of various weapons on the site. Some of Yoder’s other posts showed disdain for both candidates for president in 2008.

In one post dated Oct. 5, Yoder at times used obscenities to describe the candidates.

She described Democratic nominee Barack Obama as a “socialist pig with a twisted life viewpoint.’ She also agreed with then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s stance on guns, even tough she knocked Republican nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain for choosing her.

"The only reason McCain picked her is because she is a hot chick with intelligence slightly above average,’ Yoder wrote.

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