Website creator wins in Federal Court
Another case confirms that you have the right to publish a website which condemns, mocks, and even curses your school administrators and teachers. A federal judge in Missouri ruled that a Missouri High School violated the free speech rights of a student when it suspended him for his critical remarks about the school posted on his Web site.
This case considerably strengthens your rights because the case reached the federal court level, rather than a state court. Federal court decisions have more of an impact on establishing the your rights and influencing future cases. Many other similar cases have been settled before a court verdict.
Brandon Beussink,, the student in the Missouri case, was protected by the First Amendment because he published his website from his home using a private phone line and his personal Internet account. If you use your school’s computers to publish a defamatory site, you may be vulnerable to a suspension.
Schools have never been allowed to control your free speech rights while you are off school grounds. Since Web sites can be accessed on school grounds, schools are trying to claim that they can control what you choose to publish on your site. This case effectively tells schools that the Web is one forum that they cannot control.
“It’s simply the function of the fact that people are taken by the technology and erroneously assume that completely different rules apply,” said Jonathon Albano, the ACLU First Amendment attorney who handled the case. “What the student was doing shouldn’t be different than if the student was using handbills [as a form of protest].”
Albano added, “Schools have no right to interfere with what students say on their own time outside of school, whether their thoughts appear in an underground newspaper or on the Internet,” Jacobs said.
We do not doubt that your school may still try to suspend you. If a school administrator threatens to suspend you for your Web site, then you should calmly threaten to sue him PERSONALLY and sue your school if you receive a suspension. Schools do not like lawsuits because they cost money. Use their fear of lawsuits as leverage.
And most importantly, never back down. The Constitution is on your side.
“Dislike or being upset by the content of a student’s speech is not an acceptable justification for limiting student speech,” Judge Sippel wrote in his opinion.