The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the suspension of two students at a Missouri school for creating and maintaining a racist and sexist blog. The issue involved whether the district had violated the students’ First Amendment free speech rights by disciplining them for off-campus speech. The blog had been created off school property and could not be found through a Google search. However, the district had evidence that school computers had been used to access the site multiple times and to upload files to the blog.
Additionally, the posts created a disruption at school. Talk of the blog spread quickly and teachers had difficulty managing their classrooms. Several teachers testified that it was the most disruptive day of their entire careers. The district was able to identify the blog creators and suspended them for ten days. The students filed suit, alleging First Amendment violations and seeking a preliminary injunction of the discipline. The lower court granted the injunction, but the appeals court reversed the decision.
In reversing, the appeals court looked to the standard established in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which upholds student speech as long as the speech did not cause a substantial disruption at school. Although the blog was created off-campus, its content was clearly intended to “target” the school. Because of this, it was reasonably foreseeable that the speech was would cause a substantial disruption to the school community. Under the Tinker standard, such speech is not protected by the First Amendment.