California Teen Avoids Suspension for Facebook Status, Thanks to ACLU
In December, 10th-grader Donny Dunlap received an unusually large amount of homework from his biology teacher, so he decided to vent about it on Facebook. In a status update, the teen announced that the teacher is a "fat ass who should stop eating fast food, and is a douche bag." A fellow student saw the status, and brought it to the attention of the school's principal. The vice principal contacted Donny at home, asked him to remove the status, and to personally apologize to the biology teacher. The 15-year-old complied, but the saga didn't end there. Later on in the day, Dunlap was called into the principal's office, and informed that he would be suspended for one day for cyberbullying. And that's where the ACLU got involved.
After being contacted by the Dunlaps, ACLU attorney Linda Lye sent a letter to the high school, in Donny's defense. In the letter, Lye pointed out that the Constitution explicitly "bars schools from disciplining students for speech, unless the speech creates a material and substantial disruption of the school environment." Dunlap's status update, she argued, clearly didn't result in any such disruption, and it didn't even explicitly threaten the teacher. Punishing him, then, would put the school system at risk of running into a lawsuit.
Ultimately, the San Juan Unified School District agreed with Lye's assessment, and removed the suspension from Dunlap's record. His mother, Kristina, agreed that Donny's comments were inappropriate, but agreed that they certainly weren't grounds for school punishment. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Dunlap argued that her son "was just venting like the rest of us used to do, sitting on the grass at lunchtime. Students will always talk about their teachers."