Slander and Libel in Education (Bailey Ferris)
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Where the Line is Drawn.

Where the Line is Drawn. | Slander and Libel in Education (Bailey Ferris) |

In cases of libel and slander it is tough to know where to draw the line.  Generally in order to find a statement defamatory on their face it must: "1. impute a criminal offense, 2 impute a loathsome disease, 3 disparage professional competency 4 impute outrageous sexual misconduct. Although those are the four guidelines, there are always exeptions and special cases. It is imparitive to be sure where to draw the line on lthis subject as teachers because we will be running into cases of slander/libel frequently. So what happens if there is a joke being made, would that count as slander/libel?

In the case of Salek v. Passaic Collegiate Sch., 605 A.2d 276 (N.J. Sup. Ct. App. Div. 1992) a teacher tried to file a suit for defamation against a high school student. The student's yearbook contained a picture with a caption suggesting that the teacher was engaged in a sexual relationship with another faculty member.  The court reasoned that it was agreed that the article was an exaggeration and was not a fact.

Having said that some statements made in humor can still be considered slander/libel.

So as a teacher keep this in mind "It should be noted that opinions cannot be considered slander, defamation or libel as it is protected by the constitutional free speech." (,-Defamation-&-Libel.html) It is still legal to voice your opinon , but not to spread false statements and attack somebodies charecter.

Vikki Howard's comment, June 7, 2012 11:38 AM
Such an important topic for teachers--to understand that even though students may act in ways that may harm a teacher emotionally and even professionally, there First Amendment rights are not complete--though with considerable latitude as you have explained so well here! Superb analysis using relevant related case law and the principles of slander and libel!
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Will the Truth Set You Free?

Will the Truth Set You Free? | Slander and Libel in Education (Bailey Ferris) |

It is against the law to make a false statement that would harm another persons reputation.  If the words are spoken they are called slander, and if they are written they are called libel.

But what if the party being charged with defamation claims that what they say has some truth in it, and they are claiming that if is not all "false"? So is the truth always a sure defense?

In the case of Fairbanks Publishing Co. v. Pitka, 376 P.2d 190 (Alaska 1962), a school teacher in a small town in Alaska resigned, and then a few days later withdrew her resignation. She then later wrote to the board that she planned to resign 30 days from the date of the letter.  She then received a letter relieving her of her duties as a teacher, and also warning her to stay off school property. She did not follow those rules and was areested for disturbing the peace. The Fairbanks newspaper later that evening read "North Pole Teacher Fights Board", the article also went on to state that the police were called and stated that she was arrested. The Supreme Court of Alaska ruled that the newspaper was libelous, because it diminished the esteem and resulted in the lack of her confidence.  Although the court ruled in the favor of the teacher, it also ruled that the newspaper could have brought to a head that the statements made were true. Under the common law at the time truth was defense, if one could justify the statements. 

The ruling used in this case was standard law, but has since been modified. Truth is a defense unless the defamation was published with malice intent.

information retrieved from:

Schimmel, Stellman Fischer. Teachers and the Law. 2011, Pearsons New Jersey.

Vikki Howard's comment, June 7, 2012 11:41 AM
good summary of the "truth" principle in law Bailey--could not link to the original article that was scooped though
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Is Gossip Dangerous?

Gossip, everyone does it, but why is this important to look out for if your a teacher? The question is can we as future teachers be charged with slandering a student while we are chatting it up with fellow co-workers in the teachers lounge? The answer is yes and no.  If someone is knowingly spreading false gossip they can be charged for slander. But in some cases teachers are qualified to know privileged information, and that it is in fact part of their responsibilities as teachers.

In the case of Davidson v. Walter, 91S.E.2d 520 (Fa.Ct.App.1956) aff'd. 104 S.E.2d 113 (Ga. 1958), the president of a Georgia college made statements accusing a student of teft. he then discussed with the Chaplin of the school the teft during a meeting that also included the student. The student claimed that this was confidential information that he should not have shared in the meeting.  But the court ruled that sincethe statements were made during an investigation , they were considered part of the teacher's professional responsibilites.

So a here is a simple was of putting it according to "oif teachers knowingly spread false gossip that harms a student's reputation, they can be found guilty of slander.

oa teacher's statements may be conditionally privileged if they are made as part of the disciplinary process or of the teacher's administrative responsibilities".

When discussing students with other teachers be sure to keep the gossip to a minumum out of necessity and do not spread malice or falsese statements !

Vikki Howard's comment, June 7, 2012 11:45 AM
this too is important--I have not really known teachers to spend much time spreading gossip about students--though often teacher discuss student conduct/progress in class, often unrelated to a course of action related to discipline or remediation--is this behavior conditionally privileged?
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Online Comments made by Students and Teachers

Online Comments made by Students and Teachers | Slander and Libel in Education (Bailey Ferris) |

In the new age of technology it is easy to make comments that could be considered libel......but what happens when teachers take to the web to make comments about their students? According to The Legal Guide for Bloggers at, if a teacher who can be considered a public figure is to make "libel" comments online about their students, it must be proven that ""actual malice"—that you published with either knowledge of falsity or in reckless disregard for the truth. This is a difficult standard for a plaintiff to meet." If a teacher is making comments online about a studentd and it is considered "in good faith" , the court most of the time finds the teacher not guilty of libel.

What about when a students makes libel comments online regarding a teacher? In most cases derogatory statements made by students about teachers by students have been found not to have the right to sue for defamation. In the case of Draker v. Scheiber, 2008 WL 3457023 (Tex. App. Ct. 2008) a Vice Principle in a High School in Texas sued two students that had created a Myspace page that contained her personal information (name, photo, place of employment) along with graphic sexual references. The Vice Principal claimed that the students had the "intentional infliction of emotional distress".  The courtdismissed the lawsuit because the comments were not assertion of fact that could be verified.  Therefore they were not defamatory. (Schimmel, Stellman, Fischer, p85)

It is important for future educators to know that we are "generally" protected by the law when making comments about our students in good faith online.  It is also helpful to know that many of the comments made by students regarding us as teachers, in most cases will not prosecuted in the court. Unless the comments are threatening to the teachers future career.

Vikki Howard's comment, June 7, 2012 11:48 AM
Another great topic--and so relevant today. Your conclusions regarding the vulnerability of teachers for comments made online are so many teachers have lost their jobs because of this very behavior--it will be interesting to see where these cases end--if suits are brought against the schools