Do schools have the right to punish a student for comments or pictures posted on-line?

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Do schools have the right to punish a student for comments or pictures posted on-line?

These were not violent or causing harm to others.

Asked on October 28, 2013 under Business Law, Texas

Answers:

Brook Miscoski / Hurr Law Office PC

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

The answer to your question can depend on context. If a comment or picture is posted using an educational resource, the school will have some rights to regulate the way that resource is used.

If you're asking whether a school can punish a student for comments or pictures posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or something similar, students can be punished for comments or pictures posted on-line that are threatening or that substantially interfere with educational activities (that's a simplification).

It's not that difficult to understand that bullying, harassing, or threatening a classmate could be considered threatening or disruptive. And it's not that difficult to understand that making level-headed comments about important public issues should not be punished.

But some situations can be more complicated, less obvious, or even involve other rights or obligations. For example, a middle schooler probably doesn't have many enforceable legal obligations (too young), but a university student could be legally obligated to honor statutory or contractual obligations that restrict speech, such as privacy or non-disclosure obligations.

Lengthy articles and texts can and have been written about such subjects, and an attorney would have to get more detailed information from you to understand your specific question.

The answer to this question is mostly controled by the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal circuit where your state is found (5th Circuit for Texas), but individual states also make laws that give schools and prosecutors specific obligations to stop or punish certain online activity. For instance, Texas has enacted anti-bullying laws that require schools to set policies and intervene and discipline against bullying. Some parts of these laws are still fairly new, so it's not settled how they will be interpreted, applied, and limited by the courts.

 


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