Off-Campus Facebook Posting Covered Under First Amendment

ACLU Sues to Protect Broward Student's Free Speech in Web 2.0 World

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed suit today on behalf of Katherine Evans, a former Pembroke Pines Charter high school student, to protect her freedom of speech. In November 2007, Evans was suspended for three days for engaging in protected off-campus speech. Principal Peter Bayer's actions came at a high price for Evans, an advanced placement student in her critical senior year.

The lawsuit alleges that the principal's actions violated Evans' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

"Students cannot be punished for posting comments online from their home computers criticizing their teachers. Absent a credible threat of harm, criticism is protected by the First Amendment," said Maria Kayanan, associate legal director, ACLU of Florida.

Evans created a Facebook page over a holiday weekend from her home computer that criticized one of her teachers as "the worst teacher she had ever had," and solicited comments about that teacher. After receiving three comments, all of which berated Evans and supported the teacher, she removed the page. The principal suspended Evans for three days after learning of the posting, claiming the posting was "bullying/cyber bullying harassment towards a staff member." Evans' rights are protected speech because her posting contained no threats of violence towards the teacher, nor did her posting disrupt activities at the school, according to ACLU attorneys.

"It is ironic that high school is where students first learn about First Amendment rights, including the right to free speech, yet it is Katy's high school that unconstitutionally trampled those very rights," said Matthew D. Bavaro, ACLU cooperating attorney.

Bayer's actions caused Evans to be removed from her AP classes and forced her into the lesser-weighted honors classes, which resulted in diminishing her academic reputation and good standing. The ACLU asks for the Court to assume jurisdiction over the matter, and to declare the principal's actions in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and to expunge the student's records relating to the suspension.

The complaint can be viewed in PDF at:

The lawsuit was filed today in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida by ACLU cooperating attorney Matthew D. Bavaro, Esq., and Randall Marshall and Maria Kayanan of the ACLU.