The School Law Blog
Covers news and analysis on legal developments affecting schools, educators, and parents.
Student Speech in the Facebook Era
By Mark Walsh
This past weekend, Yale Law School examined a student speech case that has attracted wide notice in public education.
I wasn't at the conference titled "The Future of Student Internet Speech: What Are We Teaching the Facebook Generation?” But the Yale Daily News reported Tuesday that the case "pitting Connecticut public school administrators against a high school student’s personal blog took center stage" at the conference. (Hat tip to How Appealing.)
The case is Doninger v. Niehoff, which has been bouncing around from the U.S. District Court in Connecticut to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, and back to the district court.
Following is a Readers Digest version
of the Doninger case:
Avery Doninger, a volunteer in the Americorps national public service program, has a civil rights trial pending in New Haven U.S. District Court. [Among her duties on the job: helping hurricane victims in Texas.]
Avery, a 2008 graduate of Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, CT, and her mother, Lauren Doninger, sued Principal Karissa Niehoff and Superintendent Paula Schwartz [now retired] after they removed Avery from the ballot for class secretary.
Avery Doninger was among a group of four students who lobbied the community for support of an annual battle of the bands sponsored by the Student Council. The student council adviser suggested the students reach out to taxpayers and the students copied the adviser an on email to the community.
Schwartz became very upset after taxpayers called her and she cancelled the event known as Jamfest. Doninger subsequently referred to administrators in a live journal blog as central office douche bags, and Schwartz's son found the posting while trolling the internet for his mother a couple weeks later. While Avery Doninger was banned from school office, another student who called Schwartz a dirty whore was given an award and lauded for citizenship.
School officials suppressed the write-in vote in which Doninger was elected by a plurality. Schwartz refused to accept Doninger's apology for her choice of words. During an assembly, Niehoff banned free-speech and Team Avery t-shirts and seized at least one shirt.
The Doningers have been seeking -- among other remedies -- an apology for civil rights violations and recognition of the write-in victory.
New Haven U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz denied a motion for a preliminary injunction [immediate relief] in August 2007. Based on errors in the record, Travesty Kravitz's injunction ruling was upheld by the U.S. Second Circuit in New York.
Travesty Kravitz held a hearing in November 2008 on Doninger's request for a trial. He cut off discussion about various frauds - including false testimony - upon the court and ultimately ordered a trial on Jan. 15, 2009. But, he limited the scope of the trial to the narrow issue of the suppression and seizure of free speech t-shirts.
Appeals are likely on a number of rulings narrowing the scope of the case.
On Jan. 22, 2009, Connecticut State Senator Gary LeBeau filed a landmark bill to protect student speech.
On Jan. 23, 2009, Travesty Kravitz scheduled jury selection and a trial for civil rights violations related to the suppression and seizure of free speech t-shirts.