PARIS (AFP) — A French court on Monday ordered a website that allows pupils to rate their schools to stop naming teachers, after the country's educational establishment denounced it as "public lynching".
The website, www.note2be.com, which opened late January based on similar sites that have existed for years in Britain, the United States and many other countries around the world, proved wildly popular with students and parents.
In just four weeks they gave marks out of 20 to 50,000 of their teachers nad judged whether they were "interesting," "available," "respected," or "motivated".
Judgments, made anonymously, were on the whole favourable, with an average rating of 14.
But teachers, already smarting after a suggestion by President Nicolas Sarkozy that they might face performance reviews to which students could contribute, were incensed.
A group of teachers and several teachers' union asked a Paris court to decide whether the site broke privacy laws by publishing teachers' names and ratings and whether it breached their right to be judged only by superiors.
On Monday, the court ordered the site to stop using teachers' names both on the general site and in its discussion forums and said it would impose a fine of 1,000 euros per day for each day it failed to implement the judgment.
"The exercise of freedom of information and of expression has as limits that it does not damage teaching activities," it said.
The court however allowed the site to continue rating schools.
Education Minister Xavier Darcos said he had "noted with satisfaction" the ruling and reiterated his "support for teachers whose difficult job should not be the object of anonymous attacks on the internet."
Stephane Cola, the site's founder, said he would appeal the ruling, which he said was "contrary to the evolution of the Internet."
The ruling could lead to similar sites to rate French teachers being launched abroad, outside the control of French legal authorities, he said.
"We hope that the decision of the appeal court will conform more to what is going on everywhere else outside of France, particularly in Germany," said Cola.
Since sites such as www.ratemyteachers.com were launched in the early years of this century, many teachers and teaching unions in countries across the globe have been enraged by students' comments on their performance.
Many schools blocked access to these websites from computers on their premises but were unable to have the sites shut down.
Last year a German court, hearing a case taken by a teacher against a rating site, ruled that teachers could be rated online by their pupils.
It said the ratings, so long as they were not defamatory, were allowable under the principles of freedom of expression and that publishing a teacher's name was acceptable because it could easily be found on the school's website.
Ian Brown of the Universtiy of Oxford's Internet Institute told AFP by telephone that "we'll see cases higher up the European legal system to see whether the German decision or the French one will be upheld."
He also said that the French ruling was likely to lead to teacher rating sites being set up outside of French legal jurisdiction.
The CNIL, France's independent authority charged with ensuring that data privacy law is applied, is due to give its verdict on the www.note2be.com website on Thursday.
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