Teens suspended over Facebook `parody'

Politics Materials 22 December 2007 02:39 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - Three teenagers have sued school officials over lengthy suspensions they received for setting up a Facebook page that identifies a teacher as a pedophile.

The entry on the social networking site included the face and last name of the teacher and referred to him as a member of the North American Man/Boy Love Association, which supports sex between men and boys.

"They're not saying it's true, they're saying it's just parody," the students' attorney, Marc Mezibov , said Friday.

The boys were suspended from Taylor High School for the maximum 90 days for creating the entry in November. They've served 10 days and were told the rest of the punishment would begin Jan. 2, when classes resume after the holiday break.

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott ordered school officials to let them return pending a hearing on the lawsuit Jan. 10.

"Each of the boys has written an apology to the teacher and questioned whether they exercised their best judgment," their attorney, Marc Mezibov , said Friday.

The students and their parents filed the federal lawsuit Dec. 14 after the Three Rivers School District board voted to uphold the punishment.

They argue that the Facebook entry should be considered protected speech because it was parody. The plaintiffs also allege the district overstepped its bounds because the Web page was created away from school with access limited to seven people, Mezibov said.

District officials wouldn't comment but have said allowing the students to remain in school would cause unspecified disruptions and hurt teacher morale. The district said 14 teachers had already requested their photos be removed from district Web sites. The teacher photo on Facebook was copied from a district site.

The students want to be reinstated, their disciplinary actions deleted from their records and the district ordered to pay their attorney fees and unspecified damages.

There have similar cases across Ohio and the country, said Scott Greenwood, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney. Courts have ruled that students can't be punished by schools for such off-campus acts and that such suspensions violate free speech, he said.