June 25, 2007

"Bong Hits 4 Jesus" and student rights off-campus

Andy Carvin correctly points out the complexities in the Morse v. Frederick opinions, released today in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case. The five-judge majority opinion ruled that student behavior occuring during an off-campus event was nonetheless subject to student-conduct rules if it was school-sanctioned, during school hours, and supervised by teachers and staff. The majority opinion also ruled that a school has a right to control behavior that it deems antithetical to legitimate, official messages in the school curriculum (in this case, anti-drug education).

But the wealth of opinions complicates the effect of this case, especially with regard to other off-campus student behavior that doesn't fit into the relatively neat during-school-hours, school-sanctioned, and school-supervised pattern in this case. Justice Breyer's partial concurrence is correct: the court could easily have ruled on the issue of partial immunity (was the school principal subject to personal liability) without addressing the other issues. Given that fact, I suspect Chief Justice Roberts overreached in trying to address the substantive issues. His reputation was as a consensus-maker, and here, he not only failed to achieve consensus but reduced the authority of the court by trying to address the merits and failing to get anything other than a splintered opinion. Carvin predicted that the serious questions about regulation of off-campus student conduct on the internet remain and will wait for another case.

Quick update: It looks like all of the major decisions released today are 5-4. The court is still divided.

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Posted in Education policy on June 25, 2007 1:16 PM |