Wynar v. Douglas Cnty. Sch. Dist.

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 08-29-2013
  • Case #: 11-17127
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge McKeown for the Court; Circuit Judge Watford; Senior District Judge Zilly
  • Full Text Opinion

hen faced with an identifiable threat of school violence, a school’s disciplinary action does not violate a student's First Amendment rights or due process so long as the off-campus messages that threaten the safety of the school and its students interfere with the rights of other students and make it reasonable for school officials to “forecast a substantial disruption” of school activities.

A student at Douglas High School, Landon Wynar, sent a number of MySpace messages from his home to his friends. Wynar's messages mentioned using weapons he had in his possession to stage a school shooting, and the messages included specific dates as well as specific students he intended to kill. The students who received these messages reported Wynar to the school; Wynar was suspended for 10 days and then later expelled for 90 days. Asserting that the messages were in jest, Wynar and his father brought a claim against the school district under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for violation of Wynar’s First Amendment rights and due process. The Ninth Circuit held that the school did not violate Wynar’s First Amendment rights because schools may restrict speech that "might reasonably lead school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities or that collides with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone….” The panel went on to say that this type of speech is “not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech." The panel also noted that an actual disruption did not need to materialize before the school took action. In response to the due process claim, the panel held that Wynar received adequate due process before his suspension and his expulsion. Further, no parental notice was required prior to his suspension. Additionally, the school district was not required to prove Wynar's subjective intent in writing the messages prior to expelling him. AFFIRMED.

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