Principal Sues Over Facebook Hate Page

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A former principal at a school in Australia is suing a former student and two parent, claiming they defamed her with a Facebook hate page, ABC Melbourne is reporting.

Sue Burtenshaw was suspended indefinitely from Coober Pedy Area School in South Australia for her treatment of students and parents. In October she met with the Teachers Appeal Board to discuss a possible return to the school.

The board ruled that although her permanent transfer was unjust, being reinstated would cause disruptions from students and parents at the school. The South Australia Education Department said the decision should not reflect her capabilities, and that they would support her return to the public school system at large.

Still out of work, the former principal has since filed suit at Adelaide Magistrates Court against two Coober Pedy parents and a former student at Gepps Cross Girls High School, where she was a principal before transfering to Coober Pedy.

Burtenshaw alleges comments were made on Facebook in January 2010, when she was being investigated for her management and disciplinary policies. According to Burtenshaw, the comments were "maliciously and intentionally made to lower the opinion of the average person as to (her) professional abilities, morals and ethics". She says the comments suggest she is "corrupt, not fit to hold office and lacking in empathy for staff, students and parents" and that she "caused staff working under her to suffer stress-related illnesses".

The page in question, which has since been removed from Facebook, was titled, "We do not want Sue Lewis back at Coober Pedy Area School at all". Lewis being her maiden name.

According to Burtenshaw, the page and comments written therein were humiliating and caused her distress and damaged her reputation.

She is seeking an undisclosed amount, but the limit for a case to be handled by the magistrate court is $40,000. A trial date will be set next month.

What do you think about this? Should comments made on a Facebook page be subject to legal action? Or does this fit into the category of freedom of speech?

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