Call to request a free consultation: 540.345.2000

Personal Injury Lawyers in Southwest Virginia, Virginia, and Nationally

Different Kind of “Charm” in Bullying

Different Interpretation of the Law

Bullying is never an acceptable behavior. Cyberbullying is arguably among the worst and most harmful forms of bullying. One such case from the fairly recent past involved a young woman elected by her school as the “Queen of Charm.”  When this case reached the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a somewhat different interpretation of a law prevailed, upholding the new kind of charm in cyberbullying - Altizerruling of the lower court.

In 2005, acting from a radically different understanding of “charm” a teen created a group on the social media site MySpace. She named the group S.A.S.H. Although the girl claimed in a deposition that the acronym meant “Students Against Sluts Herpes,” a classmate testified that it actually referred to another student, whose initial was “S.” This was done using her home computer. After posting a picture supposedly represented the target as having herpes and calling the target a whore, other students added comments in support of the false claims of the “Charm Queen.”

The target and her parents complained to the vice principal of the school; the target stayed at home for a day. School leaders investigated the online group and decided that the site qualified as a “hate site.” School leaders also decided that the group was a violation of the school’s policy on harassment, intimidation, and bullying.

The punishment meted out to the “Charm Queen” was a five-day suspension from school, a 90-day “social suspension,” and being banned from cheerleading. The “social suspension” prevented her from crowning the next “Queen of Charm.” In response, she claimed that the outcome of the punishment was social isolation from peers and disdain from teachers. She also claimed to be taking anti-depressants.

The “Charm Queen” sued the school district and school leaders. The case was built on the premise that she could not be punished by the school because this behavior occurred off campus, and that she was protected under the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. The District Court granted summary judgment in support of the schools.

When the case was appealed the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals panel defined the issue to be whether the school’s responsibility in “maintaining order in the school and protecting the well-being and educational rights of its student” included the “hate site.” The appeal upheld the initial ruling in favor of the school. In their ruling, the panel noted that bullying is a significant issue for schools throughout the country. They also said that schools must have the ability to prevent and punish harassment and bullying in order to up hold their responsibility to provide an environment that is conducive to learning. The panel also held that “every aspect of the webpage’s design and implementation was school-related.”

As of this writing, the U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed the matter of verbal abuse by one student against another student.

Cyberbullying is considered by many people to be the worst kind of bullying because it can reach people globally, and because once it is posted it is there forever. The behavior does not comply with my definition of “charm.”

Related content: