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Ninth Circuit Upholds Expulsion of Student for Threats Sent from Home Via Social Media

  • September 05, 2013

September 05, 2013

In Wynar v. Douglas County School Dist. (9th Cir. 2013) — F.3d —-, 2013 WL 4566354, a Nevada high school student sent a number of increasingly violent and threatening instant messages via social media to his friends. In the messages (apparently sent from home, outside of school hours), the student bragged about his weapons, threatened to shoot specific classmates, and made other troubling, violent statements. The student was expelled based in large part on these instant messages. Subsequently, the student and his father sued the school district and individual educators for, among other things, violation of the student’s constitutional right to free expression. A district court granted summary judgment in favor of the school district, and held the educators were permitted to exercise disciplinary jurisdiction over, and to expel, the student.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals applied the Tinker disruption standard even though the speech occurred off campus, and affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. This decision – in contrast to recent student social media cases in the Third Circuit (e.g., Layshock v. Hermitage Sch. Dist. (3d Cir.2011) 650 F.3d 205 ) – demonstrates that educators may assert disciplinary jurisdiction over student cyberexpression that originates off-campus, and not during school hours, if it is reasonable for school officials to forecast a substantial disruption of, or material interference with, school activities.

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