Settlement Reached Over Student's Facebook Comments

A legal settlement was reached in a First Amendment lawsuit over a Florida high school suspending a student who called a teacher "the worst I've ever met" on Facebook.

A former high school honors student has reached a legal settlement after being suspended for calling a former teacher “the worst I’ve ever met” on Facebook.

Does a school’s authority end when students go on the Internet to talk about their classes, teachers, and classmates? Students generally tend to think so, while school authorities don’t. This is the disconnnect that happened in November 2007 when Katherine “Katie” Evans created a Facebook group against her Advanced Placement English teacher.

Katherine had the group for only two days on the site, until three students came to the teacher’s defense. Katherine deleted the group, but Pembroke Pines Charter High School’s principal, Peter Bayer, had already been told of the incident including the fact that Evans had called the teacher “the worst teacher I’ve ever met.” According to the Kansas City Star, Bayer classified the student’s action as cyberbullying or harassment of a staff member, suspended her for three days, and then placed her in a lower English class.

Thus began two years of legal maneuvering. In late 2008, Evans sued the school principal with the legal support of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, arguing her First Amendment right to free speech had been violated.

In a pre-trial ruling, Judge Barry Garber had determined last February that Evans’ comments had been off campus and didn’t threaten the teacher, or condone illegal or violent action against her. Her comments were, in other words, constitutionally protected.

Although Katherine was ready to go to trial, a legal settlement has been reached. According to Evans’ lawyers, the settlement includes the reimbursement of the student’s legal fees (about $15,000), the expunging of her three-day suspension from her school records, and $1 in nominal damages. And she’s now a 20-year-old student at University of Florida.

Do you think the school went too far with its punishment of Katherine?