The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a school district did not violate a student’s First Amendment speech rights by suspending him for off-campus behavior that occurred after school in C.R. v. Eugene School District 4J, No. 13-35856 (9th Cir. 2016).
C.R. was a middle school student suspended for sexually harassing two younger students after school at a public park adjacent to the school. The students were on a path that led from the school through the park, and there were no fences separating the school and park boundaries. Under the school district’s “door-to-door” policy, the administrators determined that the incident was school-related and suspended C.R. for two school days. C.R.’s parents sued the school district, arguing that the school district did not have authority to discipline C.R. for speech, nor speech that occurred after school, off campus.
The Ninth Circuit held the school district had authority to discipline the student, and it was not violative of his First Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit discussed standards established by other circuits to establish sufficient connection between the conduct in question and school attendance. The Fourth Circuit follows the “nexus test,” which analyzes whether the student’s off-campus speech was tied closely enough to school activities to permit the school to regulate it. In the Eighth Circuit, the “reasonably foreseeable test” is used to determine whether it was reasonably foreseeable that the off-campus speech would reach the school. The Ninth Circuit Court analyzed the incident that led to C.R.’s suspension under both tests and upheld the school district’s decision.
School districts are often presented with circumstances that require consideration of addressing student conduct that occurs off school property and after school. C.R. v. Eugene provides guidelines to assist school districts in deciding whether steps may be taken to regulate speech that occurs off campus and after school.
If you have any questions about how to apply the holding of C.R. v. Eugene School District 4J to a particular incident or school discipline policies, please feel free to contact us at your convenience.