A federal court recently ruled in the infamous Indiana “slumber party lawsuit” we highlighted in 2009 (CLICK HERE). Two female students sued school officials following their respective athletic suspensions for posting sexually suggestive pictures of themselves online. Captured during a summer-break slumber party, the depictions displayed no indication of the subjects’ academic or athletic affiliations.
U.S. District Chief Judge Philip P. Simon U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Indiana found in favor of the minor female plaintiffs. Remoteness of the girls’ “guilty act” to their respective athletic and academic qualifications was the apparent lynchpin of the court’s legal analysis.
The court’s legal reasoning relied heavily upon that articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1969 landmark decision, Tinker v. Des Moines. Tinker involved a legal challenge by two students who were disciplined for wearing black armbands to school as a show of anti-Vietnam sentiment. An absence of any potential disruption within the academic arena was the main factor that clinched the case.
Judge Simon also assigned substantial significance to prior Pennsylvania precedent in the instant action. He cited the grave inherent dangers of permitting public school officials to reach beyond educational boundaries to exert undue influence in extracurricular matters.
In its final analysis, the court also noted the very vague pupil handbook verbiage that prohibits actions that “discredit” or “dishonor” the school or its students. This over breadth was found to be violative of students’ Constitutional rights to free expression.
The court repeatedly deemed plaintiffs’ postings as obscene absurdities. To its credit, however, it also noted that official sanctions based upon subjective judgments are precisely what First Amendment framers sought to prevent.
ACLU attorney Ken Falk is plaintiffs’ legal counsel. Falk expressed personal pleasure with the precedential value of this case for filling an ever-widening legal void in today’s high-tech communicative environment. He further posited that the ruling offers all public school officials a valuable lesson by delineating educators’ permissible legal boundaries.