KOWALSKI v. BERKELEY COUNTY SCHOOLS
Kara KOWALSKI, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. BERKELEY COUNTY SCHOOLS, a public school district; Manny P. Arvon, II, Superintendent, in his official capacity; Ronald Stephens, Principal, in his official capacity and individually; Becky J. Harden, Vice Principal, in her official capacity and individually; Buffy Ashcraft, cheerleading coach, in her official capacity and individually; Rick Deuell, Assistant Superintendent, in his official capacity, Defendants–Appellees.
Argued March 25, 2011. -- July 27, 2011
Before NIEMEYER, DUNCAN, and AGEE, Circuit Judges.
ARGUED:Nancy A. Dalby, Charles Town, West Virginia, for Appellant. Tracey Brown Eberling, Steptoe & Johnson, LLP, Martinsburg, West Virginia, for Appellees. ON BRIEF:Jason P. Foster, Steptoe & Johnson, LLP, Martinsburg, West Virginia, for Appellees.
When Kara Kowalski was a senior at Musselman High School in Berkeley County, West Virginia, school administrators suspended her from school for five days for creating and posting to a MySpace.com webpage called “S.A.S.H.,” which Kowalski claims stood for “Students Against Sluts Herpes” and which was largely dedicated to ridiculing a fellow student. Kowalski commenced this action, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the Berkeley County School District and five of its officers, contending that in disciplining her, the defendants violated her free speech and due process rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. She alleges, among other things, that the School District was not justified in regulating her speech because it did not occur during a “school-related activity,” but rather was “private out-of-school speech.”
The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that they were authorized to punish Kowalski because her webpage was “created for the purpose of inviting others to indulge in disruptive and hateful conduct,” which caused an “in-school disruption.”
Reviewing the summary judgment record de novo, we conclude that in the circumstances of this case, the School District's imposition of sanctions was permissible. Kowalski used the Internet to orchestrate a targeted attack on a classmate, and did so in a manner that was sufficiently connected to the school environment as to implicate the School District's recognized authority to discipline speech which “materially and substantially interfere[es] with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school and collid[es] with the rights of others.” Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 513 (1969) (internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, we affirm.
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