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Abstract

Despite the overwhelming increase in students’ Internet use and the growing popularity of online public schools, the United States Supreme Court has never addressed how, or if, schools can discipline students for disruptive online speech without violating the students’ First Amendment rights. What the Supreme Court has addressed is how school administrators can constitutionally discipline students within traditional schools. In a landmark decision, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the Supreme Court announced the now famous principle that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Still, the Court continued, school administrators can discipline students when their speech “materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder.” In a later case, the Court stated that free speech rights for students on campus are “not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings.” In this Comment, I suggest that in order to provide a workable standard that balances online students’ free speech rights with online schools’ obligations to maintain an appropriate learning environment for all students, the Supreme Court should apply Tinker, without its exceptions, to speech made by students at online schools.