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Does First Amendment protect students' online speech off-campus?

The Supreme Court declined to take up Tuesday three potentially important test cases of the First Amendment of students engaged in controversial speech on the Internet.

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The US Supreme Court declined on Tuesday to take up three cases presenting a potentially important test of the free speech rights of minors to engage in offensive and controversial speech on the Internet.

One case involved an eighth grade student suspended from school after creating a fake MySpace page lampooning her school principal as a sex addict.

The high court also refused to take up two similar cases involving high school seniors disciplined for offensive MySpace postings.

The cases were being closely watched by First Amendment scholars because they were seen as presenting the high court with an opportunity to clarify conflicting lower court rulings on whether school officials may discipline a student for offensive comments made at home and posted on the Internet about fellow students or school officials.

Experts say it is one of the most troublesome issues facing school administrators today.

The honor roll eighth grader at Blue Mountain Middle School in Pennsylvania said she created the parody MySpace profile as a joke. In addition to accusing the principal of engaging in sex in his office and “hitting on students and their parents,” the profile said the principal’s wife looked like a man and that his son resembled a gorilla.

The offensive comments were written on a home computer during a weekend and were shared with the teen’s MySpace friends.

The student was suspended for 10 days and threatened with a civil lawsuit and criminal prosecution by the angry principal.

The girl and her mother apologized to the principal, James McGonigle, and to his family. But Mr. McGonigle wasn’t satisfied.

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