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Friday, February 3, 2012

8th Circuit upholds discipline for off campus speech

D.J.M. v. Hannibal Pub. Sch. Dist., ___F.3d____(8th Cir. Aug. 1, 2011): Student sent off-campus instant messages to a classmate in which “he talked about getting a gun and shooting some other students at school.” School authorities notified the police and subsequently suspended the student for the remainder of the year. The parents commenced an action claiming violations of their son’s right to free speech. The student claimed that “his messages were not serious expressions of intent to harm…that his speech was not student speech because it was online outside of school…[and] that the school's decision to suspend him was a content based restriction violating the First Amendment.” The 8th Circuit held that the suspension did not violate the student’s free speech rights because the student’s speech constituted unprotected “true threats.” The panel ruled also that “it was reasonably foreseeable that D.J.M.'s threats about shooting specific students in school would be brought to the attention of school authorities and create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment.” The panel thus concluded that the school district was justified in disciplining the student citing to the substantial disruption standard articulated in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969) (school officials may discipline students for speech that occurs ”in class or out of it,” which “might reasonably [lead]school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities.”)

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