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For students, a right to be mean online?


With more schools meting out discipline for what they see as cyber bullying, some courts, parents, and free-speech advocates are pushing back, arguing that students have a First Amendment right to be nasty in cyberspace, reports the Los Angeles Times. One morning in May 2008, an eighth-grader walked into guidance counselor Janice Hart’s office at a Beverly Hills school crying. She was humiliated because the night before, a classmate had posted a video on YouTube with a group of other eighth-graders bad-mouthing her. Citing "cyber bullying" concerns, school officials suspended the girl who posted the video for two days. That student took the case to federal court, saying her free-speech rights had been violated. Last month, a federal judge in Los Angeles sided with her, saying the school had gone too far. "To allow the school to cast this wide a net and suspend a student simply because another student takes offense to [her] speech … runs afoul" of the law, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson wrote in a 60-page opinion. "The court cannot uphold school discipline of student speech simply because young persons are unpredictable or immature, or because, in general, teenagers are emotionally fragile and may often fight over hurtful comments." Free-speech advocates said the notoriety of recent cases, such as a Missouri girl who committed suicide after a mean-spirited MySpace message was sent, have led schools to overreact and excessively crack down on student expression when it comes to the internet…

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