In the last year or so, we’ve seen multiple instances of minors being charged with crimes for sexting. Apparently, to some prosecutors, these racy pics constitute child pornography – even if the nude photos that the minors posses are photos of their own naked bodies.
But what about sexually suggestive photos posted on social media sites? Can schools punish teens for things they post in their own time?
A U.S. District Judge says no, as it violates a teen’s first amendment rights.
Back in 2009, two female students at a Fort Wayne Indiana high school were disciplined after photos emerged that they had posted on MySpace. The girls, aged 15 and 16, took photos at a sleepover that displayed “sexually suggestive poses with various props.” For instance, one photo saw the girls dressed in lingerie, pretending to lick penis-shaped lollipops.
The girls put these photos on MySpace, and according to the AP, their privacy settings only allowed friends to see them. Somehow, a parent at the school came across the photos and brought them to the district superintendent. The parent said that the photos were causing “divisiveness” among the school volleyball team, of which the girls were members.
Apparently, the photos also made their way around the school.
Here is the punishment that followed: The principal suspended the two girls from the volleyball team, the choir and the cheerleading team. He also ordered the girls to complete three counseling sessions and made them apologize to an all-male coaching board.
With the help of the Indiana ACLU, the two teens filed a lawsuit against the school district in October of 2009.
And now, the District Judge has ruled that the school violated the girls’ first amendment rights by disciplining them for the racy photos. From the ACLU of Indiana –
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana represented the students in their case against the school corporation, arguing that the conduct of the students had no substantial disruptive effect on the school. The court concluded that the discipline violated the First Amendment rights of free speech. The court also enjoined application of the school policy under which the students could be punished because they brought “discredit or dishonor” upon themselves or the school. The court said the policy was vague and overbroad.
The Judge ruled that the photos could not be ruled “obscene.” He said they were “silly” but were intended to be humorous.
If the girls would’ve taken nude photos, it might have been an entirely dfferent situation. For one, the pics probably wouldn’t have stayed on the site for very long, as MySpace like other social sites ban nudity.
Would the nude pics have been considered free speech in the context of the school code? It’s possible that criminal charges could have stemmed from nudes, just like the sexting cases. But could the school take disciplinary action over actions done off school property on the students’ own time?
According to the AP,
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that students can be disciplined for activities that happen outside of school, so long as the school can prove the activities were disruptive or posed a danger and that it was foreseeable the activities would find their way to campus.
So I guess the answer is yes, they could be disciplined. It looks like the key part of the Indiana case was the term “disruptive.” Apparently, lingerie pics with candy penises aren’t thought of as disruptive, but nude pics probably would be.
The question remains, however, where is the line drawn? What constitutes “obscene” and “disruptive?” What do you think? Let us know in the comments.