When a student engages in bullying, tensions tend to arise between that student’s freedom of speech—guaranteed in the First Amendment—and the school’s duty to provide its students with an environment that is safe and conducive to learning. Bullying on the Internet is no exception. Although several Supreme Court decisions address students’ free speech rights, none have dealt with student speech on the Internet. Thus, lower courts have struggled to apply the Supreme Court’s standards to cases involving student online speech. When called upon to determine the extent of school administrators’ authority to discipline students for inappropriate online speech, lower courts do not reach consistent results. The author recognizes the interests in conflict—the interest in speaking freely, without government interference, as well as the interest in educating and protecting students—and recommends that courts apply the “material and substantial disruption” standard to best balance these interests. The author argues that it would not be suitable for courts to look to other factors—including the location of the speech and whether the student-speaker intended to bring the speech onto campus—in the context of student speech on the Internet.
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