Off-Campus Student Speech

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On June 13, 2011, the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals held, in two separate decisions with similar facts, that absent a substantial disruption of the school environment or the reasonable forecast of such disruption, public school students in Pennsylvania may not be disciplined for “off-campus” speech. The Appeals Court’s decisions in Layshock v. Hermitage School District and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District hold that the school districts violated the First Amendment rights of the students involved when they disciplined them for content posted on the Internet outside of school, even where such content targeted school officials and may have created minor disruption within the school environment.

With these decisions, the Third Circuit becomes the highest court in the nation to establish a clear line regarding the limits on public school districts’ power to discipline students for vulgar, offensive and lewd student expression on the Internet. Holdings from the Third Circuit are binding precedent in the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

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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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