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Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools

652 F.3d 565 (2011)

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Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

652 F.3d 565 (2011)

Facts

A public-high-school student, Kara Kowalski (plaintiff), created a discussion-group webpage after school on her home computer to harass and bully a fellow student named Shay with pictures and comments indicating that Shay had herpes. About two dozen high-school students joined the group in response to Kowalski’s invitation. The first was a student working on a school computer during an after-hours class, who posted a series of photographs with degrading comments ridiculing Shay. Kowalski commented positively on these photographs. Later that evening, Shay’s father called the student who posted the photographs and expressed his anger, and then the student called Kowalski, who was unable to delete the group or photographs. Shay and her parents filed a harassment complaint with the high-school vice principal the next morning, and Shay left school that day rather than face her classmates. The principal contacted the central board of Berkeley County Schools (school district) (defendant), and a board official indicated that it was appropriate to discipline Kowalski for her actions. The principal and vice principal conducted an investigation, in which it interviewed students who joined the discussion group. School-district administrators decided that the discussion group was a hate website in violation of a school policy against harassment, bullying, and intimidation. Kowalski was suspended from school for 10 days, later reduced to five days, and was issued a 90-day social suspension preventing her from attending school events as an indirect participant. Kowalski brought suit in the district court and argued that the school administrators violated her rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution by punishing her for protected, off-campus speech. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the school administrators.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Niemeyer, J.)

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