The school is currently investigating the writer of a review posted on RateMyTeacher.com about a teacher on campus.
The review, a 1,210-word piece about the instructor’s teaching style and class, spread amongst students and teachers shortly after it was written. This review has since been removed from the website. The administration questioned several students in an attempt to identify the unknown writer.
Once administration identified one student as the alleged review writer, they pulled this student from class to question several times during the week.
According to the student, who requested not to be identified for this story, they met with a variety of administrators, a union representative, the teacher and the department chair. The student repeatedly denied writing the review, but was continually pulled out of class for further questioning.
Because this investigation is currently ongoing, Assistant of Principal of Supervision Marc Trocchio declined to comment.
But is such an investigation even warranted?
Though the claims against the teacher in the first review on RateMyTeacher.com are negative, the investigation of the student is questionable on the grounds of the First Amendment.
According to the Constitution, “The First Amendment shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” However, this freedom does not cover libel, the written defamation that is purposely published to damage a person’s reputation.
According to Frank LoMonte, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, “most of the statements I see on the [review] are in fact purely statements of opinion.”
LaMonte added that the review can only be considered libel if the student made these statements as false statements of fact.
After reading the review for ourselves, Baron Banner found at least two statements that could be interpreted as libelous. In order to avoid publishing libel, Banner cannot reprint these statements.
Depending on the interpretation of the review, the administration has grounds to take action against the student. The teacher in this situation could be a private individual, and thus is more vulnerable to injury from defamation.
However, because the review revolves around the Fountain Valley High School community, the teacher could also be a public official. Therefore, such speech in the RateMyTeacher reviews is speech that relates to public concern is protected under the First Amendment.
At the time of this story, the student is no longer being removed from class and is unsure of future repercussions.
—Kristie-Valerie Hoang & Katrya Ly