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Cheerleader Sues School, Coach Over Illicit Facebook Log-in

By Leeds Brown Law | November 9, 2010

A lawsuit has been filed by parents of former high school student, Mandi Jackson, alleging Tommie Hill, a teacher acting in her capacity as a cheerleading coach, demanded that members of her squad hand over their Facebook login information.  The teacher used it to access a student’s account, which included a heated discussion of some of the cheerleading squad’s internal politics.  The teacher then shared the messages among school administrators, which resulted in the student receiving various sanctions.  The teacher defends that she illicit the log-in information to check for pictures involving underage drinking, despite sharing the student’s private messages.  Jackson, through her parents, has now filed a lawsuit in federal court in Mississippi alleging that the school violated the girl’s constitutional rights.  Full Article

First Amendment law has developed to include several specific rules that apply to speech by students.  Under the “school speech” doctrine, a student does not enjoy absolute freedom where the student’s speech may be viewed as impairing the school’s ability to carry out its educational mission.  The Supreme Court ruled in the infamous “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case, that where school speech reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug, a school principal may have the right to restrict a student’s speech because the school has a compelling interest in deterring drug use by students.  There is no doubt that the Court will have difficulty deciding whether Ms. Jackson’s private messages on a social networking site, one in which the student did not access during school hours, is considered school speech.  However, regardless of whether Ms. Jackson’s messages are considered school speech, every student should take this as a firm warning: do not post on Facebook what you do not want to share with the entire world.  This includes pictures of clothing, status updates, and comments on your friends’ walls.  There has been an increase of school suspensions, resulting in an increase of lawsuits, now that social media has become mainstream.

The attorneys at Leeds Morelli & Brown, P.C., represent students and their families in Nassau and Suffolk counties, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Staten Island.  For any questions, contact an attorney at the Leeds Morelli & Brown P.C. law firm for a free consultation at 1-800-585-4658. Leeds Morelli & Brown P.C.’s website is located at www.lmblaw.com.

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