Inquirer staff writer Jennifer Lin reports:

A federal appeals court in Philadelphia today hears arguments over whether a school district in Western Pennsylvania violated the free speech of a high school student, who was disciplined for posting offensive comments about his principal on Myspace.com.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in 2006 against the Heritage School District in Mercer County, arguing that it went too far in punishing Justin Layshock, now a 20-year-old college student.

A federal court in 2007 ruled in the student's favor. The decision was appealed by the district and supported in a friend-of-the-court brief by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Groups involved in First Amendment issues are closely watching the case for the critical questions it raises about the reach of a school in the Internet.

Layshock made a bogus profile on Myspace.com, the social networking Web site, that mocked his principal, Eric Trosch. The student made fun of the principal's large build and implied that he drank.

Layshock, who had a 3.3 grade point average in his senior year, was suspended for 10 days, banned from after-school academic programs and transferred to a less rigorous "alternative" education program.

Contact Inquirer staff Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com 

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