By Kyle W. Brenton. Full text here.
As more and more public school students express themselves via e-mail, instant messages, and online communities such as MySpace and Facebook, more and more school administrators reach beyond the schoolhouse gates to censor and punish that online expression. While First Amendment jurisprudence provides a framework for determining when a school may censor a student’s on-campus speech, authority to regulate off-campus—much less online—speech remains a gray area. This Note contends that courts should evaluate the connection between a particular student’s online expression and the school environment in order to determine whether or not the school has the authority to censor it. This approach is consonant with the Supreme Court’s repeated admonition that the school environment possesses special characteristics that permit more intrusive regulation of student speech. In Part I, this Note sets forth the jurisprudential framework whereby schools may censor student speech and examines lower court cases addressing student cyberspeech. Part II demonstrates that the prevailing approach fails to help courts draw meaningful distinctions between which cyberspeech is student speech and which is not. Finally, Part III argues that courts should apply the principles of personal jurisdiction to student cyberspeech by analogy to ensure that any public school authority over cyberspeech is supported by minimum contacts between the speech and the school environment. The exercise of school power must also not offend notions of fair play and substantial justice.