TRI in the News


Appeals Court Might Hear Layshock Case in December


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October 16, 2008

An appellate court has set a tentative date for arguments in the appeals of Hermitage School District and the Layshock family over the district's disciplining of Justin Layshock for creating an unflattering Web profile of his principal.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Philadelphia, said it is planning to hear arguments Dec. 9, but the date could change.

Layshock was a senior at Hickory High School when he created the profile of Eric W. Trosch on his grandmother's computer in December 2005 and posted it on MySpace, the social networking Web site.

The district suspended Layshock, now 20 and a student at St. John's University, New York, for 10 days and assigned him to an alternative education program. Officials later allowed Layshock to return to regular classes and graduate with his class.

Layshock and his parents, Donald and Cheryl, sued the district, Trosch, Principal Chris Gill and Superintendent Karen A. Ionta, saying district officials overstepped their authority in punishing Layshock for off-campus speech, and interfered with Mr. and Mrs. Layshock's right to discipline their son.

On Nov. 14, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence F. McVerry, Pittsburgh, sided with Layshock on the issue of the punishment, but with school officials on the issue of parental rights. Both sides appealed and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the district, and the Rutherford Institute, Student Press Law Center and the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment at Pennsylvania State University filed briefs on behalf of the Layshocks.

School officials said they did not violate Layshock's free-speech rights because Layshock's profile was "vulgar, defamatory and plainly offensive" and should be considered on-campus speech because Layshock downloaded a picture of Trosch from the school's Web site, and the profile was aimed at the school community and accessed by Layshock at school.

Trosch has filed a defamation lawsuit against Layshock and three others who he said also created Web profiles of him.

The Layshocks argued that the district is trying to assert authority in the community and the homes of students, and create students who "unquestionably accept government censorship and restrictions" on their civil rights. School officials have agreed to pay Layshock $7,500 and his parents $2,500 if they lose the appeal.