Federal judge upholds student’s suspension for video

Friday, May 25, 2007

A federal judge has upheld the suspension of a Seattle-area student involving the production and YouTube posting of a video mocking a teacher.

U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman denied on May 22 Kentridge High School senior Gregory Requa’s request for a temporary restraining order that would end the 40-day suspension, rejecting Requa’s argument that the punishment violated his First Amendment rights.

In the opinion, Pechman wrote that Requa “failed to establish or raise serious questions that his punishment is for his protected free speech and not for the classroom conduct of which he is accused.”

The video, dubbed “Mongzilla,” questions teacher Joyce Mong’s hygiene and classroom clutter. Shot when students secured a hidden video camera in Mong’s English classroom, it includes students dancing and mocking Mong as her back is turned and features commentary on how Mong talks to students.

Though Requa denied involvement in creating the video, he did acknowledge posting a link to it on his MySpace page, which he removed after a February report by television station KOMO News 4 that mentioned the video. School officials punished Requa after other students alleged that he helped to edit and post the video for them.

Requa and attorney Jeannette Cohen argued that his involvement in the video was irrelevant, saying that the suspension of a student for criticizing a teacher is a violation of the First Amendment.

However, Kent School District said that the punishment was for the classroom disruption that occurred in the production of the video, not for his criticism.

According to spokeswoman Becky Hanks, “The video depicted the conduct that was punished.”

Pechman agreed with the school district in her opinion saying, “The court has no difficulty in concluding that one student filming another student standing behind a teacher making ‘rabbit ears’ and pelvic thrusts in her direction, or a student filming the buttocks of a teacher as she bends over in the classroom, constitutes a material and substantial disruption to the work and discipline of the school.”

While noting that “the ability of students to critique the performance and competence of their teachers is a legitimate and important right,” Pechman said that a classroom devoid of inappropriate behavior is in the public interest.

Regarding the video, Pechman said, “The First Amendment does not extend its coverage to disruptive, in-class activity of this nature.”

Courtney Holliday is a junior majoring in economics and public policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

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