Teenagers' Death Threats on Facebook Are Subject of Free Speech Lawsuit

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The school's right to control speech that didn't take place on school grounds depends on whether the girls' conversation presented a "material and substantial disruption," according to Ruthann Robson, a constitutional law expert and professor at the City University of New York School of Law.

While the school has a reason to be concerned about death threats given the spate of suicides connected to online bullying, Robson says the off-campus nature of the girls' conversation makes it tough to determine whether they presented a substantial disruption at school, particularly given recent cases that have favored the protected speech of students, not a school's right to curtail it.

For example, she said that after two similar cases in the 3rd Judicial Circuit involving students' speech on social networks received conflicting rulings on the very same day, the judges realized there was a controversy and decided both cases should be ruled in favor of the students' First Amendment rights.

"When disciplining students for speech that happens outside of school, schools can be on some shaky constitutional ground under the First Amendment," Robson said.

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