The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

July 13, 2007

Judge: Wrestled with case

(Continued)

HERMITAGE —

“The actual charges made by the School District were directed only at Justin’s off-campus conduct,” the judge said.

With that basis, school officials had to show that Justin’s profile caused “substantial disruption” of school.

The key to the judge’s decision was that school officials could not show “a sufficient nexus between Justin’s speech and a substantial disruption of the school environment.”

One of the problems is that there were three other profiles of Trosch available at the same time on Myspace, and officials could not show how Justin’s alone caused problems, McVerry said.

The judge also said officials did not show that their reaction to the Web sites did not create some of the “buzz” among students.

School was disrupted by the Web sites, but the disruption was “minimal,” McVerry said. He said no “widespread disorder” was generated, nor was there “violence or student disciplinary action.”

McVerry also said no classes were canceled, although he had said earlier that computer programming classes were canceled.

McVerry concluded that “the school administration lacked authority to punish Justin for his off-campus creation of a Trosch profile,” but acknowledged “this decision is a close call and Defendants’ reaction to the unflattering profile was understandable.”

The judge said he would not comment on whether the profile was a parody, as the Layshocks claimed, or defamatory, as the district claimed. That decision is up to the courts.

Trosch has filed a defamation suit against Layshock and the purported creators of two of the other profiles.

McVerry also:

• Removed Trosch, co-principal Chris Gill and Superintendent Karen A. Ionta from the suit, Trosch because he was not involved in disciplining Justin, and Mrs. Ionta and Gill because they have qualified immunity to the charges, even though they violated Justin’s’ free-speech rights.

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