But He that Filches my Good Name....
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But He that Filches my Good Name....
Exploring libel, and slander in academia
Curated by Carla J Wisler
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Courthouse News Service

Courthouse News Service | But He that Filches my Good Name.... | Scoop.it

State Champ Says High School Defamed Her
By JOE HARRIS
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CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) - A school district defamed a state champion swimmer, causing Colorado State to rescind her swimming scholarship, the girl's parents say in a demand for punitive damages against Rockwood School District.
Mary and Peter McCoy claim the school district sent false statements about their daughter to Colorado State, causing the university to rescind her scholarship.

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Carla J Wisler's comment, June 6, 2012 7:28 PM
The dispute between Shannon and her high school guidance counselor highlights two important elements for teachers to note. First, reference forms are of crucial importance for graduating students, and secondly, knowing a student well enough to be accurate on the form is vital. If a teacher is not comfortable with filling out a recommendation, he or she should seek the input of a colleague.

When Shannon McCoy asked her school’s guidance department to complete a required recommendation for her college application she offered the guidance department the privilege of writing a true and accurate description of her character. Shannon’s request for the reference waives her right to sue for defamation as long as the guidance department acts in good faith and reports true and accurate information, (Shimmel, p. 88). One must question if the information relayed on the form was indeed true. The list of Shannon’s numerous awards, 3.0 GPA, and her successes athletically, suggest that to describe her as “below average” on her college recommendation is erroneous. The obvious problem arises when the school counselor states that she knew Shannon for a year and based her comments upon the relationship. The McCoys allege that guidance counselor, Beth Brasel, did not know their daughter at all. From the website for the American School Counselor Association I learned that the state of Missouri requires a school counselor be available to students 9-12 in a ratio of 1: 300-375. Ms. Brasel may have had a large case load but she is still libel for relaying false information to Colorado State University and causing the young swimmer to lose her freshman season.

In the case of Gonzaga University v. Doe, 536, U. S. 273 the Supreme Court addressed the defamation of a student by a university official. The found in favor of the student, who had been denied his teaching license by the state due to a report made from the University in reference to his character. This precedent setting case establishes the right of a student to expect a recommendation to be based on facts, rather than hearsay, gossip, and rumors.

DOE v. GONZAGA UNIVERSITY John DOE, Petitioner, v. GONZAGA UNIVERSITY, a Washington nonprofit corporation, Julia M. Lynch, Roberta S. League, and Susan J. Kyle, Respondents. No. 69456-7. Argued Jan. 18, 2001. -- May 31, 2001

http://www.schoolcounselor.org/content.asp?contentid=535
Vikki Howard's comment, June 14, 2012 8:51 PM
Carla--excellent analysis and very relevant case--we recently had a similar case (to Gonzaga) at UMW -- making recommendations is serious business--which is why most legalists suggest that recommendations avoid negative statements--but should be written in very bland language--great scoop!
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Schools� Suits Against Students Who Mock Them Online

Schools� Suits Against Students Who Mock Them Online | But He that Filches my Good Name.... | Scoop.it
FindLaw | Find a Lawyer. Find Answers....
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Vikki Howard's comment, June 14, 2012 8:56 PM
similar to case above?
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Teachers sue student over Web site

Online news sections of the The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Kentucky Enquirer...
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Vikki Howard's comment, June 14, 2012 8:52 PM
what happened in this case Carla?
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For One Falsely Accused Teacher, 'Sorry' Isn't Enough

If Dan Domenigoni has one word of advice for schoolteachers who find themselves the target of malicious and false complaints by their students, it is this:Sue.Five years ago, Domenigoni, a gruff...
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Carla J Wisler's comment, June 6, 2012 9:30 PM
He that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed." Shakespeare's Othello, Act III, scene 3.
Vikki Howard's comment, June 14, 2012 8:53 PM
looking for a legal analysis rather than a literary analysis of the case
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Layshock v. Hermitage Sch. Dist.

A student created a fake profile of his high school principal on a social networking internet web site, using his grandmother's computer. Some students saw the profile from school computers before the school disabled them.
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Carla J Wisler's comment, June 6, 2012 11:30 PM



The instances of students making fun of their teachers, imitating their quirks for the delight of their friends are as old as education itself. When does the joke stop being funny? In 1969 the Supreme Court, in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent County School District, the courts ruled that “students do not shed their constitutional right to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate”. That same case produced a test for determining when school administrators could punish student speech. The Tinker test has also been applied to off campus behavior as well. In the case of the three Carmel High School teachers, the Tinker test would have determined that a “foreseeable risk of disruption” was eminent and the administration would be legally within the guidelines of Tinker to punish the student. This was the result in Dominquez v Nicholl, when a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found in favor of the school. In the Dominquez case a student who was running for a Senior class office wrote offensive words in description of teachers she disliked in her off campus blog. The Tinker test determined there existed, “foreseeable risk of substantial disruption at the school”. Ms. Dominquiz was removed from candidacy as punishment.
In Layshock v Hermitage, the opposite finding occured. The student was affirmed and his punishment revoked under his first amendment right to free speech.
These cases point to several conclusions for teachers. First, it is pretty normal and expected to for adolescents to behave like kids and do and say goofy things about their teachers. Second, it is never alright for a student to threaten his teacher. The distinction between the two is pretty stark. As educators, the tools are in our hands to make this distinction and either role with the punches or take legal action when our rights are violated.

Vikki Howard's comment, June 14, 2012 8:56 PM
Excellent analysis Carla--your juxtaposition of competing findings from different courts illustrates how complex this issue is for schools and the courts--for the most part, the courts have ruled in favor of students' first amendment rights--but, that could change as this pervasive online behavior escalates--I don't see it going any other direction
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Constitutional - A Former High School Coach Can Sue Parents for Defamation

Constitutional - A Former High School Coach Can Sue Parents for Defamation | But He that Filches my Good Name.... | Scoop.it
A former high school coach may be able to sue his parental tormentors for defamation.
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Carla J Wisler's comment, June 6, 2012 9:46 PM

Look into any athletic event in high schools across America and one can find coaches who scream at players, parents who yell at coaches, athletes who curse their opponents and referees hammered from all of the above. When does it go too far? Coach O’Connor lost his job and his reputation when parents decided to delve deeply into his life to find a way to legally oust him from Lehi High School Basketball. The question in the center of the defamation lawsuit is whether Mr. O’Connor is a public official. When the Times v. Sullivan decision is applied, the justice system is left wondering still who exactly is a “public official”? O’Connor’s case cleared this question for coaches and teachers when the court ruled in his favor. “We refuse to classify Mr. O'Connor's position as one endowed with apparent importance and therefore decline to extend public official status to a high school basketball coach” Justice Nehring, 165 P.3d 1214 (2007) 2007 UT 58O’Connor v. Burningham. July 31, 2007. After making this statement the case was remanded back to the district making this statement in the concluding remarks of the case the Utah Supreme Court established that teachers and coaches could not be libeled and slandered without repercussions.

Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75, 86 S.Ct. 669, 15 L.Ed.2d 597 (1966) stands as another case relational to O’Connor. In this case a public employee, but not a “public official” was a
victim of slander by a newspaper reporter named Baer. When the court deliberated, at issue was once again, whether a person was a public official simply because he or she had community visibility. Also, whether the newspaper reporter was offering an opinion, or making statements implied as fact was also discussed. It was ruled that the paper did indeed slander Rosenblatt and would own damages for the defamation of his character.

Along the same line, at issue in O’Connor’s case was the parents’ rights of free speech under the first amendment. In this instance the courts found that there did exist ‘‘malice of intent” to the degree that their statements were libelous. West v. Thomson Newspapers, 872 P.2d 999, 1008 n. 13 (Utah 1994) set this precedent.

Of relevance to teachers from O’Connor is the key issue once again, that teachers are not considered public officials and are therefore not fair game for public derogatory remarks.
We also learn from these cases that while a teacher may sue, she may never recover professionally from the damage done by slander and libel. Teachers should exercise caution, prudence, and good judgment at all times, when under public scrutiny.
Vikki Howard's comment, June 14, 2012 8:58 PM
Again--good choice and superb legal breakdown -- using a variety of supporting cases to illuminate the issue of public official status of educators -- and the connection to slander and libel
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Former teacher sues Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical High School for defamation

Former teacher sues Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical High School for defamation | But He that Filches my Good Name.... | Scoop.it
A Norton man who worked as a plumbing instructor at Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical High School for two school years has filed a $2.2 million defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit against the school, its superintendent, its school...
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Vikki Howard's comment, June 14, 2012 8:59 PM
could be an interesting case?
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Law Professor Accuses Students of Defamation - New York Times

At the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, a law professor has sued two of his students, alleging that they defamed him by unfairly describing him as a racist.
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Carla J Wisler's comment, June 2, 2012 3:51 AM

The Arkansas law professor was asked to take part in an academic debate. When his participation was requested, he was being granted privilege to speak his mind on the subject of the debate. When Professor Peltz’ opinion included a negative comment on the constitutionality of affirmative action, some of his black students took exception and labeled him racist. The defamation of Professor Peltz’ character by labeling him racist would cause his academic integrity as a specialist on free speech to be maligned.
This is a very relevant topic for teachers, especially where the area of an educator’s academic specialty is brought into question. If a teacher cannot offer a well thought out response in the forum of debate without his integrity being questioned, there is no safe arena for academic debate in public. It is by raising questions and rhetorical thinking that educators stimulate their students.
To address the satirical article about Rosa Parks, one can assume the article was in poor taste, but it is protected as free speech rather than as racism due to the satirical tone. Publications that are clearly intended as humor and are obviously not purely factual materials are not defamatory, (Shimmel, et al, p 84).
According to the decision reached in the 1964 case of the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan the intent of malice toward Mr. Sullivan, a public official, was a necessary element in his defamation suit. What became known as the New York Times Standard demands that the claim of defamation in regards to a public official must be based in malicious intent. When Professor Peltz’ students accused him of being racist, the comment was directed in writing, (libal) deliberately maligning his reputation as a law professor. Had the case gone to trial, New York v. Sullivan would have worked in Peltz’s favor.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, 376 U.S. 254, New York Times Co. v. SullivanNo. 39 Argued: January 6, 1964 --- Decided: March 9, 1964


Vikki Howard's comment, June 14, 2012 9:01 PM
wow--this is a very professional essay on the important case--you really do your research Carla!!