Maybe it was appropriate that we got the word on Leap Day that the Supreme Court would not hear the case of Bell v. Itawamba County School Board. This is the case involving the wannabe rapper, Taylor Bell, who goes by T-Bizzle in the rapper community. By deciding not to hear the case, SCOTUS leaves intact the en banc decision of the 5th Circuit. That decision upheld the disciplinary action the school took after Mr. Bell recorded a rap alleging that two coaches had engaged in sexual misconduct with some female students.
To say that the rap was vulgar and nasty would be an understatement, but it wasn't the nastiness that turned this case in favor of the district. The court concluded that the rap violated the school code of conduct by "threatening, harassing and intimidating" school employees. The rap included defamatory accusations along with suggestions of violence. Importantly, the court held that even though it was created and recorded off campus, it was intended to reach the school community. That was pretty obvious, since Mr. Bell put it on Facebook, where he had almost 1,400 friends, and then YouTube. Since it was intended to reach the school community, and violated the standards laid out in the code of conduct, the school had the authority to take disciplinary action.
The 5th Circuit decision is a major pronouncement regarding free speech rights of students in public schools. This is especially true for us in. Texas, since a 5th Circuit decision is binding on our courts. The case is particularly important because it recognizes that the Internet and social media are game changers in the legal analysis. The geographic boundary of "school property" becomes less important with this decision.
No doubt we will be talking about this one on my annual Back to School tour this fall. As a school attorney, I'm pleased with this outcome. But I'm a little disappointed that we won't get a Supreme Court decision about this very interesting case. The oral argument would have been a “bring your popcorn” event.
DAWG BONE: TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR CODE OF CONDUCT REGARDING STUDENT USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA. YOU MIGHT WANT TO REVISE LANGUAGE BASED ON THE BELL CASE.