2nd Circuit Upholds Discipline for Student’s Off-Campus Speech

By Mark Walsh — May 30, 2008 1 min read
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A federal appeals court has ruled that a student’s off-campus blog remarks created a “foreseeable risk of substantial disruption” at her high school and thus she was not entitled to a preliminary injunction reversing her discipline.

A suit filed on behalf of Avery Doninger alleged that she was barred from serving in a student office because of derogatory comments she wrote about school officials on a Web blogging site.

In a controversy over the scheduling of a social event at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington, Conn., Doninger wrote in an entry in her public blog at the site that “jamfest is cancelled due to douchebags in central office” and that readers should contact the superintendent “to piss her off more.”

In an opinion last August, a federal district judge ruled against Doninger, saying that even though the teenager’s blog remarks were created off campus, they were related to school issues and “the blog itself clearly violates the school policy of civility and cooperative conflict resolution.”

In its May 29 decision in Doninger v. Niehoff, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, unanimously upheld the district judge’s denial of the injunction.

“The blog posting directly pertained to events at LMHS, and Avery’s intent in writing it was specifically to encourage her fellow students to read and respond,” the court’s opinion says.

The court said its findings rested in part on the fact that Avery’s discipline involved a disqualification from running for a class office. Had the school imposed “a more serious consequence” on the student, there would have been other constitutional considerations, the court said.

I blogged about this case back in March when it was argued before the 2nd Circuit.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.