University goes to state Supreme Court in Facebook comments case

The school defended its right to discipline a mortuary science student for comments made on Facebook.

by Kaitlin Walker

The University of Minnesota went to court to once again defend its discipline of a mortuary sciences student who posted controversial Facebook posts.

Five justices of the Minnesota State Supreme Court heard oral arguments at the state Capitol in St. Paul Wednesday morning.

In December 2009, Amanda Tatro, then a mortuary science University student, wrote on Facebook that she wanted to use a trocar – an embalming tool used to let fluids and gas out of a dead body – from her laboratory class “to stab a certain someone in the throat.”

After a police investigation and a hearing by the Campus Committee on Student Behavior, Tatro’s grade in her mortuary science course was changed to a failing grade and she was forced to take a psychological evaluation, among other discipline.

Last summer, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the University’s right to discipline Tatro, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedents that schools may limit or discipline student expression if the expression is proven disruptive.

But Tatro maintains the posts were intended as a way to vent emotion, and that the University encroached on her rights of free speech.

During his argument, Tatro’s attorney, Jordan Kushner, argued the school’s actions were baseless and violated Tatro’s First Amendment rights. The University’s General Counsel Mark Rotenberg rebutted that Tatro failed to abide by the professional standards set for the students in the program.

The justices were mainly concerned with the effects of Tatro’s posts and the authority of the University to discipline her for those posts.

After an hour of intense questioning, the court adjourned. Tatro stood outside the courtroom with her husband looking defiant.

“I hope that I’ll finally get closure to what I didn’t start,” she said.

The justices’ opinion usually takes three to five months to be released after oral arguments.

Tatro said if she has to, she will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

For a full story on Tatro’s case, see Monday’s Minnesota Daily.