Principal sues ex-students over MySpace profiles

Administrator claims four students who allegedly posted parody profiles to the social-networking site bruised his reputation.

A Pennsylvania school principal has filed a lawsuit against four former students, claiming they falsely portrayed him as a pot smoker, beer guzzler and pornography lover and sullied his reputation through mock MySpace profiles.

Eric Trosch was principal of Hickory High School in Hermitage, Penn., at the time the short-lived profiles went up on the popular social-networking site. He claims that the students committed defamation by posting three separate profiles bearing his name, official school portrait and a host of "unsubstantiated allegations, derogatory comments and false statements" about him, according to a complaint filed last month in Mercer County, Penn., civil court.

Each of the disputed sites, which went online during the course of one week in December 2005, was removed within days of its appearance after school officials contacted MySpace.com. Trosch has since become principal of Hermitage Middle School.

One profile, which the complaint claims was created by a student named Thomas Cooper, listed an unnamed pornographic flick as Trosch's favorite movie, according to the complaint. Another profile, allegedly posted by students Christopher and Brendan Gebhart, claimed he "liked to have sex with students and brutalize women." A third profile said he "kept a keg of beer behind his desk at school, was on steroids, and smoked marijuana," the court filing said.

The latter posting, which the complaint attributes to Justin Layshock, is already the subject of a federal lawsuit that has been wending its way through court since early last year.

Layshock--then a 17-year-old Hickory High School senior with a 3.3 GPA--and his parents sued Trosch and the Hermitage school district over the school's response to the incident. Its response included suspending him from school and placing him in an alternative education program that allegedly prevented him from progressing with his normal coursework. That complaint argues the school's actions were excessive, violated Layshock's First Amendment free-speech rights, and interfered with his parents' freedom to judge how best to raise and educate their son.

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    Anne Broache
    covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
     

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