Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Kiracofe, Christine R., 1975-

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations


High school students' writings; American; Freedom of speech--United States--History; Public schools--United States--Administration; Educational law and legislation--United States


In the wake of violent school events such as Columbine, public school administrators have become more proactively vigilant, looking to identify warning signs that might reveal the next intended school-related massacre. Such attentiveness, however, must be balanced against the constitutional rights of the students, and this delicate line becomes complicated by the newest, the most pervasive and yet the least understood medium of communication: cyberspace. Even as society looks to increase the safety of its schools and prevent another tragedy on school grounds, those most responsible for maintaining the integrity of the schools—the school officials—find themselves paralyzed by conflicting messages in both the existing case law as well as the legal literature that offer no clear guidance for proper legal conduct in responding to threatening cyberspeech. The catch-22 is plain for school officials who come across threatening cyberspeech from their student body: take action and risk a lawsuit for violating the Constitution, or do nothing and hope that the truth on the website is the disclaimer on the webpage, and not the violent hit list posted just above it. To help clarify this dilemma for school administrators, this study set out to examine historical and current case law as well as the legal literature on public school discipline on student speech to determine how prior litigation in this area might inform current school officials' disciplinary action in response to student cyberspeech. Though contradictions between courts abound, even for cases with similar fact patterns, school officials may nonetheless glean some conclusions to help them make informed decisions that respect their students' constitutional rights. To do so, administrators should establish and communicate updated policies on cyberspeech to the students, staff, and community; they should look to involve other authorities at an early phase; they should look to establish a nexus between the expression and the school; they should collect documentation of all adverse effects created by the communication; finally, they should look to create a multifaceted case based upon a close examination of multiple contextual and historical factors to demonstrate an objectively reasoned reaction to the speech.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [126]-131).


vi, 131 pages




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