Student suspended for Facebook posting

February 22, 2010 (OAK FOREST, Ill.)

Justin Bird, 16, a sophomore at Oak Forest High School, used his Facebook page to criticize a teacher.

Oak Forest High School's superintendent says the Facebook posting disrupted the school day, and that's why the student was suspended.

Bird's suspension has raised questions about whether school officials overstepped their authority.

A few keyboard strokes, a click of the mouse and a new Facebook page is born. And almost just like that, Justin Bird was suspended.

"I did this on this laptop in my room, sitting on my chair. I don't know how they can come into my house and suspend me for what I did on my own time," said Bird.

Bird admits he created a Facebook fan page on which he called a teacher a derogatory name. About 50 people became fans. And then, Justin took it down. But the next day at school, he received a five-day suspension. His parents are now considering taking legal action against the school.

"I don't believe it is the school's place to come into our home and to son he is suspended for something he did at home," said Donna Bird, Justin's mother.

High School District 228 Superintendent Bill Kendall says what Bird wrote was "disrespectful, inappropriate and lewd. Even though it was done at home, it disrupted the school."

But the American Civil Liberties Union says this case is part of a growing trend across the country.

In another case, Katherine Evans was suspended from her high school in Florida for writing on a Facebook page that her teacher was "the worst teacher she ever had." Last week, a federal judge ruled that Evans could sue the principal.

Legal experts say as long as students aren't threatening a teacher, they are protected by the First Amendment, especially at home.

"We don't need a sort of governmental agent in the form of the school reaching into that household and correcting that behavior simply because the school thinks it somehow involves them," said Ed Yohnka, ACLU spokesperson.

Legal experts say there is much unchartered territory in the world of social networking. It may be a while before the U.S. Supreme Court takes such a case because, much of the time, parents and students are so embarrassed, they accept the punishment and move on.

Bird's parents are looking for the right attorney.

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