Chapter 12 Cases
Defamation and Student Records

Defamation in the public schools

Hett v. Ploetz (1963):  The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that a principal's negative recommendation of a teacher who had applied for a job in another district was protected by qualified or conditional privilege.  In so holding, the court noted that the recommendation was made without malice and was grounded on facts.

Desselle v. Guillory (1981):  The Louisiana Court of Appeals held that a parent's conversation with other parents and with the school principal regarding the alleged sexual misconduct of several teachers were protected by qualified privilege.  The court noted that the communications, even if false, made in good faith were protected.

Miklovich v. Lorain Journal Co. (1990):  The U.S. Supreme Court held that the 1st amendment free press clause does not afford a separate category of protection for newspapers for expression of opinion.  In this case, a high school wrestling coach was accused in 1974 of lying to the Ohio State High School Athletic Association with regard to a fight which broke out at a wrestling match.  As a result, this case was remanded back to the Ohio court of appeals to determine if the coach actually lied. 

Richmond Newspapers, Inc., et al. v. Lipscomb (1987):  The Virginia Supreme Court held: (1) that a public school teacher is not a public official or public figure subject to the New York Times malice standard to recover compensatory damages for libel, (2) in order for a private person to recover punitive damages for libel, he/she must prove New York Times malice, (3) compensatory damages were awarded based on the newspaper's negligence by failure to interview other students and officials before publishing the story on Lipscomb's inability to teach, (4) the evidence was insufficient to prove New York Times malice, thereby overturning the trial court's awarding of punitive damages.

Student Records

Fay v. South Colonie Central School District (1986):  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit held that a parent separated from his wife and holding joint legal custody could bring action for monetary damages against a school district for violating FERPA.  The action, however, cannot be brought under FERPA solely, but in conjunction with Section 1983.  The Federal District Court awarded nominal damages for the violation, but the Court of Appeals held that the district could be liable for more than nominal damages.