Brittany Grome, Government Law Review Member
In Indianapolis, Indiana, two sophomore girls at Churubusco High School were punished by the school district for posting sexually suggestive photos on their MySpace pages. According to the complaint, the girls dressed in lingerie and pretended to lick “penis-shaped” lollipops. These photos were taken during their summer break at a sleepover party. The school district banned the girls from participating in extracurricular activities for one full year, which was later reduced to a quarter of the volleyball season. As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit on the girls’ behalf, arguing that the Churubusco School District violated the girls’ constitutionally protected First Amendment right to free speech. The ACLU also argues that the school district went too far and publicly embarrassed the girls when it forced them to apologize to an all male coaching board and mandated that the girls undergo counseling.
Currently, there is no set standard of how school districts should address student online activity that occurs outside of school. This is a growing controversy and teens that have done similar things in the past have faced prosecution. In March of this year, a fourteen year old New Jersey student was arrested on child pornography charges when she posted nude pictures of herself on her MySpace profile. Other students have been expelled or lost scholarships. Similarly, in 2006, a seventeen year old student in Pennsylvania was suspended for creating a parody website that made fun of his principal on MySpace. The district court ruled that his off campus actions did not “disrupt school operations.”
“From the standpoint of young people, there’s no real distinction between online life and offline life . . . it’s just life.” The decision to punish these sophomore girls is drawing a lot of attention and raising many questions. Should students be punished for online activities that take place outside of school? Did the pictures placed online have a substantial effect on school activities? Was the school district justified in its actions and does it have a right to regulate student out of school online behavior? Does a student shed her First Amendment right to free speech simply because she participates in an extracurricular activity, such as a sports team?