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Is it Cyberbullying or Free Speech? Judge Rules that NV Student May Proceed with First Amendment Suit

School district policies meant to cut down on bullying and cyberbullying are being put to the test in Nevada. A lawsuit filed in March relates to a student’s First Amendment Rights and emphasizes whether or not the district has the right to press charges against a student for statements made off campus via social media.

Cyberbullying%2048885149-001.jpgHigh school senior Juliano Rosario created a series of eight tweets while out dining with family at a local restaurant. Rosario was a basketball player, and since the season was at an end, he seemed to feel that it was time to let off some steam. The eight tweets were laced with obscenities and called out members of Rosario’s high school’s athletic department.

You will find the tweets listed on page 5 of the court documents HERE.

The school responded by charging Rosario with cyberbullying of a public official. In the charges, school officials relied upon the anti-bullying policy that protects against “verbal abuse, intimidation or cyber-bullying” regardless of where it occurs when the behavior “has a direct impact on the health, welfare, and safety of students or school employees.”

The charges led to Rosario’s suspension and eventual forced transfer to a different high school. Rosario subsequently graduated, but not before filing a lawsuit claiming that the school violated his First Amendment rights.

Rosario’s attorney wonders “How far can the state go?” and also expresses shock at the notion that a teenage student “could be bullying a grown man.” The complaint makes use of a state law that makes it illegal to engage in bullying behavior on school campuses or at any school sponsored events. However, the complaint goes on to point out that this state law makes no mention of off campus speech.

Defendants in the case filed a motion to dismiss that U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan subsequently rejected. In his decision, Judge Mahan ruled that Rosario could continue with his lawsuit. The judge’s order ruled that the case would have to be tried on the merits. Nonetheless, he made note of circuit court decisions that ruled that schools could mete out discipline for off campus speech that was likely to “cause a substantial disruption” on campus.