A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the suspension of a West Virginia student who created a web page suggesting another student had a sexually transmitted disease and invited classmates to comment.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously refused to reinstate Kara Kowalski's lawsuit against school officials in Berkeley County. She claimed her five-day suspension from Musselman High School in 2005 violated her free speech and due process rights, and that school officials lacked authority to punish her because she created the web page at home.
The appeals court said the web page was created primarily for Kowalski's classmates, so the school had the right to discipline her for disrupting the learning environment.
Kowalski was a senior at Musselman when she created a MySpace page called "S.A.S.H." She claimed it was an acronym for "Students Against Sluts Herpes."
But a classmate said it stood for "Students Against Shay's Herpes" and referred to a student who was the main subject of discussion on the page. The first of about two dozen students who joined the discussion group posted photos of the student, including one with red dots drawn over her face to simulate herpes.
Other students posted messages commenting on the photos and ridiculing the student, whose parents complained to school officials the next day. Officials concluded Kowalski had created a "hate website" in violation of the school's anti-bullying policy.