Federal Appeals Court Upholds Discipline of Student for Post on Off-Campus Blog

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A federal appellate court recently ruled in favor of public school officials in Burlington, Connecticut, who prohibited a student from running for secretary of her senior class after she called administrators “douchebags” and encouraged disruptive action by other students and community members in a personal online blog written entirely off campus. The case, along with other cases from across the country, recognize that in certain factual situations, school officials have a limited right to discipline students for off-campus, online misconduct when that conduct has the potential to substantially disrupt the educational environment at school.

The case, Doninger v. Niehoff, is the fourth case arising out of a 2007 dispute between a high school student and school administrators. Avery Doninger, then a junior in high school, along with other members of the school's Student Council, planned an annual battle of the bands competition, "Jamfest," which was to be held in the school's auditorium on a Saturday in April, 2007. Shortly before the event, however, school administrators learned that the teacher responsible for operating the sound and lighting in the auditorium was unable to attend on the scheduled date. The school administrators notified the Student Council that Jamfest would have to be held in a different location or on another day.

The announcement that Jamfest would have to be rescheduled upset Doninger and her fellow organizers of the event. In response, Doninger, among other things, posted a blog entry that evening from her home computer and on her private, but publicly accessible, blog regarding the dispute. Although the event had not been cancelled, Doninger stated that Jamfest had been “cancelled due to douchebags in central office” and encouraged readers to “write something or call to piss [one of the school administrators] off more.” A flood of calls and complaints were then received at the school. As a result of her blog post, school officials prevented Doninger from running for a senior class officer position on the Student Council, although she was permitted to retain her current position as Junior Class Secretary.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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