(CN) – The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to weigh in on a pair of rulings that found Pennsylvania school officials violated the First Amendment rights of students when they suspended them for posting raunchy faux profiles of their principals on the social-networking site MySpace.
The 3rd Circuit had its final say on both cases in June 2011, after three-judge panels came to differing conclusions the previous year.
In western Pennsylvania’s Hermitage School District, Justin Layshock used his grandmother’s computer to post a phony profile of Hickory High School principal Eric Trosch. Layshock posted fake answers to online surveys and listed Trosch’s interests as “Transgender” and “Appreciators of Alcoholic Beverages.” He also listed “Steroids International” as a club to which Trosch belonged.
Word of the profile spread quickly among students at Hickory High School, and students soon created three other bogus profiles of Trosch on MySpace, each more vulgar and offensive than the one created by Layschock.
But Layshock was the only student punished for his profile. He was suspended for 10 days, placed in an alternative program for the rest of the year, banned from extracurricular activities and barred from attending graduation.
The second case concerned J.S., an eighth grader at Blue Mountain Middle School in Orwigsburg, Pa. The Blue Mountain School District suspended J.S. for 10 days after she posted a profile insinuating that her principal, James McGonigle, was a sex addict and pedophile.
In the “General Interests” section, J.S. listed “detention, being a tight ass … spending time with my child (who looks like a gorilla) … fucking in my office, hitting on students and their parents.”
In the “About Me” section, J.S. wrote: “For those who want to be my friend … I love children, sex (any kind), dogs, long walks on the beach, tv, being a dick head, and last but not least my darling wife who looks like a man (who satisfies my needs).”
J.S. allegedly created the profile because she was “mad” at McGonigle for the way he handled a dress-code violation.
Both J.S. and Layshock had used photos of their principals from school websites.
The students and their parents sued separately over the schools’ punishments, claiming violations of their constitutional rights because the infractions did not occur on school grounds.
In February 2010, a panel of appellate judges said Layshock’s profile “did not result in any substantial disruption,” but a different panel said J.S.’s profile “presented a reasonable possibility of a future disruption.”
The ruling on Layshock’s remained the same after the 2011 rehearing, and the judges were unanimous.
“We have found no authority that would support punishment for creating such a profile unless it results in foreseeable and substantial disruption of school,” Chief Judge Theodore McKee wrote.
J.S. fared better in the rehearing, with a majority of judges acknowledged that her profile was puerile, profane and “disturbing,” but “so outrageous that no one took its content seriously.”
As such, it was unconstitutional to punish J.S. with a 10-day suspension for the “shameful” personal attacks on a school principal and his family, according to the lead opinion authored by Judge Michael Chagares.
In rejecting the schools’ petitions for certiorari on Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued no comment.