Third DCA Confirms that Florida Statute Extends Beyond School Property and into Cyperspace

On October 16, 2019, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal upheld a conviction under Florida Statute section 877.13. The statute makes it a second degree misdemeanor for someone “[k]nowingly to disrupt or interfere with the lawful administration or functions of any educational institution, school board, or activity on school board property in this state.” In this social media age, the ruling is important because the Court held that the statute applies to conduct that does not occur on school property, such as a post on social media, but still interferes with a school’s function. The ruling also provides guidance for educational institutions when dealing with cyber threats and shows the limits of student free speech rights.

In O.P-G. v. State of Florida, two days after the horrific 2018 Parkland school shooting, O.P-G., a juvenile, commented on a YouTube video regarding the shooting, “I[’]m going to shoot my school in [F]lorida[.] [I’]m only 13[.] I got bull[ied] and [I’]m getting my revenge with my guns[.] [T]he school is [M]iami [L]akes [M]iddle [S]chool.” Officers were able to trace the comment to O.P-G. and contacted the administrators at Miami Lakes Middle School in which the school then took security precautions per protocol. The school principal directed that students be funneled through a single entrance, and further ordered a “pat down” of all backpacks. Supervisory staff was added, security monitors were positioned throughout the school, and classes did not commence in a timely manner as a result. O.P-G. was removed from class and taken to the main office. When he arrived, he stated that he was aware that law enforcement was at the school “because of some postings [he] placed on the internet.” He was charged with disruption of a school function under Florida Statute Section 877.13. The case proceeded to trial and he was found guilty.

On appeal, O.P-G. challenged Section 877.13 arguing that the statute only applies to on-campus actions and not a threat sent into cyberspace from an off-campus location. The Court rejected this argument and stated: “[A]lthough section 877.13(1) is limited to the disruption of activities on school board property, it does not, by its express terms, insulate conduct that occurs off-campus. Rather, it penalizes behavior, regardless of where initiated, that create[s] a foreseeable risk of substantial disruption within a school, and ultimately impairs school function.” Likewise, the Court rejected O.P-G.’s arguments that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Therefore, his conviction was upheld.

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