Their Stories: Online Off-Campus Speech

Their Stories: Online Off-Campus Speech

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9519-1.ch012
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This chapter presents the stories of students censored by their schools for speaking in an off-campus online forum. It discusses online off-campus student speech in two categories: (a) speech directed at or against school officials or the school; and (b) speech directed at or against students. The chapter examines and analyzes the various legal precedents governing students' First Amendment speech rights under each of these categories. The analysis highlights the lack of clarity and the unsettled nature of the jurisprudence governing students' free speech rights in an off-campus online setting.
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Main Focus Of The Chapter

Since the emergence of the digital age, lower courts have tried to apply the United States Supreme Court’s student-speech precedents – Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser (1986), Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988) and Morse v. Frederick (2007) – to off-campus student speech cases. Given that these Supreme Court cases involved speech within the schoolhouse gate, lower courts have struggled to provide clarity about how these precedents govern students’ online speech outside the schoolhouse gate. Some courts have also applied the true-threat doctrine to students’ off-campus digital speech, even though the Supreme Court has never extended the doctrine to such speech. As courts reach for ways to address school censorship of digital off-campus speech without clarity from the Supreme Court, the jurisprudence becomes a nebulous collection of inharmonious cases. This uncertainty clouds the scope of students’ speech rights. In this chapter, we tell the story of students that schools have censored for speaking electronically off-campus. Our discussion is divided into two categories based on the target of the online off-campus speech:

  • 1.

    Speech directed at or against school officials or the school; and

  • 2.

    Speech directed at or against students.


Speech Directed At Or Against School Officials Or The School

In this section, we present the stories of students censored for their online speech created or distributed outside the school’s campus. We specifically focus on student speech that targeted teachers, administrators or the student’s school. We examine how courts have approached the student speech and the authority of schools to censor such speech.

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