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Student Internet Posts Can Lead to Sanctions, Court Rules

A new court ruling limiting a student’s speech on the Internet—though the student in question is in high school—may prove worrisome to college students and freedom-of-speech advocates.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that a Connecticut high-school student could be barred from running for student government after posting a blog entry calling a school official a “douchebag” and encouraging other students to write or call the official to annoy her, the Hartford Courant reports.

The court, in a decision on a pretrial motion, ruled that the post, on the site livejournal.com, violated the school policy that student-government representatives show “good citizenship.” The court also said the post created disruption at the school, warranting the school to take action.

College students, posting public statements or images on sites such as Facebook, are increasingly getting scrutinized by administration officials. For instance, The Chronicle reported earlier this year about a software program that searches for offensive content on college athletes’ social-networking sites. Three experts in constitutional law said the program was probably legal because publically posted material is fair game for scrutiny.

The question, of course, is how institutions react if they don’t like that material. In the Connecticut high-school case, the student is pressing ahead for a full trial, to get a clear ruling on whether schools can limit the rights to free speech in the Internet age. —Josh Fischman

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