Judge: Student's Facebook rant 'protected speech'

A student who set up a Facebook page to complain about her teacher -- and was later suspended -- had every right to do so under the First Amendment, a federal magistrate has ruled.

The ruling not only allows Katherine ``Katie'' Evans' suit against the principal to move forward, it could set a precedent in cases involving speech and social networking on the Internet, experts say.

The courts are in the early stages of exploring the limits of free speech within social networking, said Howard Simon, the executive director of the Florida ACLU, which filed the suit on Evans' behalf.

``It's one of the main things that we wanted to establish in this case, that the First Amendment has a life in the social networking technology as it applies to the Internet and other forms of communication,'' Simon said.

In 2007, Evans, then a senior at Pembroke Pines Charter High School, created a Facebook page where she vented about ``the worst teacher I've ever met.''

But instead of other students expressing their dislike of the teacher, most defended the teacher and attacked Evans.

A couple days later, Evans took the page down.

But after Principal Peter Bayer found out about it, he bumped Evan from her Advanced Placement classes, putting her in classes with less prestige, and suspended her for three days.

In late 2008, Evans filed suit against the principal, asking that the suspension be ruled unconstitutional and reversed, that the documents be removed from her file at the school and that she receive reimbursement for attorney fees.

Evans, an honors student, was concerned that the suspension would tarnish her academic record and hurt her chances in graduate school and her career.

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