Category Student/Enrollment Issues
Title Do Schools Have the Right to Suspend Students for YouTube Postings?
Author/s
Preview An example of how a YouTube posting by one student got him and others suspended, furthermore the suspension was held up in court based on the school's hanbook policy.
Text

Do Schools Have the Right to Suspend Students for YouTube Postings?

Gregory Requa was a student at Kentridge High in the state of Washington. One day, he along with several other students were involved in secretly videotaping their English teacher. The video was then edited; graphics and music were added and then posted on YouTube. Requa linked the video to his MySpace page. The product included "commentary on the teacher's hygiene and organization habits." It also showed a student standing behind the teacher making faces, putting two fingers up behind her head, and making pelvic thrusts toward her—all without her knowledge. There were also several shots of the teacher's buttocks as she walks away from the videographer and as she bends over, shots accompanied by a rap song titled "Ms. New Booty."  

Eight months later, a local news channel discovered the video and aired a news segment featuring it along with others. The school did not learn about the video until the television station called the school for comment on the station's segment about student-made YouTube videos that are critical of high school teachers.  

The school investigated and then suspended all the students involved in creating the video for 40 days, a time frame during which 20 days would be "held in abeyance" if the students were to complete a research paper while on suspension. The school district's board of directors upheld the suspension. Requa denied having any involvement and asked the district court to lift his suspension for his supposed involvement in filming and posting the video. Requa's lawyer said that even if Requa did produce the video, his suspension was a violation of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. Was the school within its rights to suspend the students? You be the judge! 

                                                                                                                                                 Requa v. Kent School District No. 415, W.D. Wash., 2007   

Answe—You Be the Judge

Before filing with the district court, Greg Requa's parents appealed to the school district's board of directors. The board watched the video and reviewed witness statements and arguments from both sides. It then came to these conclusions:  

The Board finds that Greg's denial of his involvement is not credible. While Greg claimed at the hearing that his involvement was merely a rumor based on his reputation as a skilled video editor, the Board notes that in each witness statement the students said that Greg told them he was involved, not that it was a rumor around the school. Greg was also identified as involved by his accomplice, S.W., as having been involved in editing and posting the video.

  1. The Board of Directors finds that the students who worked to produce this video did so in concert to surreptitiously record the teacher in an embarrassing and offensive manner, with the obvious intent of humiliating her by posting the video on a publicly-accessible website. The Board finds this to be a single enterprise in which the participants-regardless of their specific role-are equally culpable.
  2. The Board notes that the handbook at Kentridge High School defines sexual harassment, in relevant part, as "activity and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" when "such conduct has the purpose . . . or the affect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work/learning environment . . . for other district employees. . ." (pages 25-26 of the Kentridge High School Student Handbook). [ellipses in original]
  3. The Board of Directors finds that recording the two episodes discussed above ... both constitute activity or conduct of a "sexual nature" that create an intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment for any teacher who might be subjected to such conduct by students made without [her] knowledge. Thus, the conduct of recording The Board of Directors rejects the First Amendment challenge argued by Greg's legal counsel; the Board concludes that the discipline is appropriate and should be upheld based on the conduct of the students involved, i.e., secretly recording the teacher in at least two ways that constitute sexual harassment, and that such conduct occurred on school grounds during class.
  4. The Board finds that the editing and posting of the video off-campus was, at best, incidental to the punishable conduct that occurred in the classroom. The punishment in this case is not for the purpose of regulating "speech" created off-campus.
  5.  The Board of Directors also notes that the Kentridge High School Student Handbook prohibits the use at school of "personal electronic devices" (including video recorders, cameras, and other personal electronic devices) and that Greg and his accomplices were in violation of this provision when they used an electronic device to record Ms. M in her classroom during class.  

The board of directors ruled that the suspension was appropriate and within the school's rules and policies. The board clearly pointed out that the suspension was not punishment for the online criticism of the teacher but rather for the conduct of the students in secretly taking a video camera into the class and then dancing in a disrespectful way deemed to be sexual harassment.  

The U.S. District Court noted what had been done by the administration and the board of directors. Attorneys for Requa argued that the suspension was a violation of the First Amendment and free speech. The court acknowledged that "all parties are in agreement that his posting of the link to the YouTube video is protected speech, and ... the Court finds inadequate evidence that the punishment meted out ... is a pretext for sanctioning that activity."  

The court cited two landmark cases involving free speech and the school's right to maintain an environment conducive to education: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 339 U.S. 503 (1969) and Bethel School District v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1988). The court concluded on the basis of the previous cases that "the filming of the footage at issue here does not constitute 'protected speech' activity."  The court also noted the school policy that prohibited students from having their cell phones turned on during school hours or from possessing any other "personal electronic device" such as video recorders and cameras.  

The court concluded that "the First Amendment does not extend its coverage to disruptive, in-class activity of this nature. A school district's interest in maintaining an environment that is helpful and not harmful to learning is also important." The U.S. District Court ruled that the discipline meted out by the school was not for the posting of the video but for the classroom actions that violated school policy. The court upheld the suspension of Requa.  

What Can We Learn from This Case?   

It is vital for Christian schools to understand that student handbooks and policies are extremely important. Because the school in this case had specific policies regarding the use of cell phones and video cameras, the discipline given stood the test of the courts. In its decision-making process, the board of directors presented very clear understanding of the school's policies. Make sure that your school has a student handbook and that there are clear and specific policies regarding student conduct in and out of the classroom and regarding secretly taping teachers or using video recording equipment. Your school should also have a student code of conduct stating what is expected of the students both in and out of school. [Note: You will find a sample Code of Conduct for Students in this issue.]   

Notice: These articles are designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. They have been provided to member schools with the understanding that ACSI is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. Laws vary by jurisdiction and the specific application of laws to particular facts requires the advice of an attorney.

LLU 19.2

Download Do Schools Have the Right to Suspend Students for YouTube Postings?