Schools, and Slander, and Libel, Oh My!
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Schools, and Slander, and Libel, Oh My!
Legal issues of slander and libel that affect teachers, schools, and students.
Curated by Erik Schwab
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Student's defamation claim denied over 'prostitute' remark

Student's defamation claim denied over 'prostitute' remark | Schools, and Slander, and Libel, Oh My! |
Teacher's comment that 'You remind me of a prostitute chewing her gum' did not state an objective fact, California appeals court rules.
Vikki Howard's comment, September 2, 2012 1:14 PM
I loved your analysis Erik-beginning with the genesis of defamatory law and application to this particular case in terms of principle of both "truth/falsehood" and directness of comment. In addition, your opinion that such a statement may not be slander, but is most certainly out of bounds for a teacher is a point well made. In addition to being in poor taste, could be seen as sexual harassment--for I suspect boys who blow bubbles would not be referred to as prostitutes.
Bo Herak's comment, September 3, 2012 9:13 PM
In this article a teacher made a indirect comment to a student about how her chewing her gum made reminded him of a prostitute and the student took it as if he called her a prostitute when all he wanted to do was make her stop chewing her gum The teacher got lucky here because he choose his words right and didn't directly call her a prostitute. This is a very important thing for teachers to know and to always be careful when making a comment directed towards a student because you never know how they will interpute what you say.
Vikki Howard's comment, September 9, 2012 11:02 PM
You are right, the courts have split hairs with respect to direct v implicit comments that might damage a person's reputation. There are other factors that make this case an "iffy" defamation suit--though I might have attacked this indelicate comment from a different angle--sexual harassment; when boys blow bubbles with their gum I would guess one does not think of a gender-based derrogatory remark.
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Student's Facebook Tirade Against Teacher Is Protected Speech | Threat Level |

Student's Facebook Tirade Against Teacher Is Protected Speech | Threat Level | | Schools, and Slander, and Libel, Oh My! |
The score is 2-1 in favor of the First Amendment when it comes to three federal rulings this month on the limits of students' online, off-campus speech.
Erik Schwab's comment, September 1, 2012 3:08 AM
Content posted on social networking sites is a growing problem in schools today, affecting both teachers and students. Teachers rant about students, students rant about teachers, and everybody can see it online. But as evidenced by "Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)," students are still entitled to freedom of expression. And these days, many students tend to express themselves on Facebook.
The rule of thumb in cases like this is that students are generally free to post what they want online unless it directly affects school activities, as upheld by the Tinker standard. For example, in "Beussink v. Woodland School District (1998)," a student made some rather derogatory statements regarding his high school and its faculty on his website. However, since he was expressing an opinion, not implying any criminal action, and not disrupting the activities of the school, the court ruled that he was protected under the Tinker standard.
I feel it is important to mention that teachers should be mindful of the content that they put on social networking sites. In this day and age, your employers can and will check it on a regular basis. Even if your students harass you online, it is inappropriate as well as unprofessional to rant about them on a public site. Teachers have been fired for less than that.
Vikki Howard's comment, September 2, 2012 1:19 PM
I concur with our conclusions. The courts have been loath to limit free speech rights on the internet (perhaps because of the slippery slope); still, teacher's reputations and emotional well-being are often harmed by student behavior on the internet--causes several states to step into the fray, writing statutes permitting schools to intervene in cases of cyber-bullying--and schools themselves have often dealt aggressively (though not necessarily legally) with students who use the web as a weapon. It is a larger social issue, and one that educators should face proactively--in ways that avoid both the behavior and the litigation.
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Wash. appeals court considers landlord’s libel suit over high school newspaper « Student Press Law Center

Wash. appeals court considers landlord’s libel suit over high school newspaper « Student Press Law Center | Schools, and Slander, and Libel, Oh My! |
Erik Schwab's comment, August 31, 2012 5:58 PM
This case intrigues me because it raises the question of whether or not a school district is accountable for content published by students. In this case, I would say no, the school district is not responsible. The school claims that it does not censor the paper due to the First Amendment. According to "Mazart v. State of New York (1981)," a school cannot be held liable for the content of a student-run newspaper if it does not exert control over what is allowed to be published. This is important to note, because it suggests that censorship of a student newspaper actually makes the school liable in the event of a libel suit.
Vikki Howard's comment, September 2, 2012 1:24 PM
Thoughtful comments Erik--School newspapers have long been the source of litigation for libel. Usually, it is members of the school itself who file for libel. The courts have ruled differently on the responsibility/ability of schools to mediate content in school papers to avoid libels--may depend, in part, on the age and legal sophistication of students
Vikki Howard's comment, September 3, 2012 12:29 AM
Really? you think shady sports deals happen all the time? I don't know, but what did you think about the school's responsibility for school newspaper content? Do you think Sisley is vulnerable here? How would this student be safe? The truth?
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Former teacher sues UTC for $4 million

Former teacher sues UTC for $4 million | Schools, and Slander, and Libel, Oh My! |
An English teacher who worked for UTC for the past eight years has sued the school and named four professors in a $4 million lawsuit alleging slander and a conspiracy to oust her when her contract was not renewed this spring.
Erik Schwab's comment, September 1, 2012 1:50 PM
In reading this article, it appears to me that there was just cause in her dismissal, and that the faculty attempted to resolve matters before deciding not to renew her contract. The evidence she brings up actually appears to incriminate her, not the faculty. Does she have a claim? I think not.
"New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)" established that public officials (which includes teachers) must prove that the derogatory statements were made with actual malice. In other words, they must prove that the statements were false. From the information available, it would appear that the derogatory statements made about her were little more than criticism of her poor performance, which does not a slander lawsuit make. Criticism, even negative criticism, is not the same as slander, as it is a statement of fact. As teachers, criticism is something we face every day. The good teacher learns from criticism and strives not to make the same mistakes, instead of whining about how everybody hates you (which was the vibe i was receiving from this case).
Vikki Howard's comment, September 2, 2012 1:27 PM
Even if statements are false, a person may not always be libelous--if the comments are made in jest or lack malicious intent. The bar is actually very high in suing for libel--because of the preference to preserve freedom of expression over individual dignity. You can see how it is a tough call. You seem to be able to distill these articles from the legal to the practical to the personal (how issues inform you as a teacher) in a very systematic way. Very well done, Erik--a pleasure to read