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BFTP: Controlling online student postings

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post, March 12, 2007.  This topic was back in the news this week.  Even this Supreme Court allows students First Amendment rights.

One of our most thoughtful library/tech leaders here in Minnesota posted this question to a state listserv (used here with permission):

A teacher in the _______ Project has been targeted on a Facebook site. The offending student deleted the page, using his cell phone, while a school administrator was speaking to the class. The teacher ishand.jpg quite upset and contacted me for information in how to proceed. I am aware of 1st Amendment issues, etc. and of the controversy surrounding what schools can and cannot control, but am wondering what policies folks have in place and how these situations are being resolved. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Do we need additional policies for the read/write web?

I've just been doing a little digging into our standing AUP to see if it covers most Web 2.0-related issues, and my conclusion is that we do not need additional policies to cover these newer applications and resources. Our policy already states (bold is mine):

  • Users will not use the school district system to transmit or receive obscene, abusive, profane, lewd, vulgar, rude, inflammatory, threatening, disrespectful, or sexually explicit language.
  • Users will not use the school district system to access, review, upload, download, store, print, post, or distribute materials that use language or images that are inappropriate to the educational setting or disruptive to the educational process and will not post information or materials that could cause damage or danger of disruption.
  • Users will not use the school district system to access, review, upload, download, store, print, post, or distribute materials that use language or images that advocate violence or discrimination toward other people (hate literature) or that may constitute harassment or discrimination.

But this does NOT cover student off-site behaviors. I do remember from Dangerously Irrelevant Scott McLeod's session at the November 2006 TIES tech conference that schools have lost most cases when they have tried to discipline students for off-site speech issues, no matter how egregious. (And according to the linked article above, this is still the case.)

There is also a Point/Counterpoint column in the March 2007 issue of ISTE's Leading & Learning magazine that asks "Should Schools Regulate Offsite Online Behavior?" Nancy Willard argues for schools responding to cyberbulling (but not teacher bashing). Lynn Wietecha asks what can schools "reasonably" do.

My sense is there would need to a strong case made for the "disruptive to the educational process" just like any other student free-speech issue before a district would/should/could step in in any off-site student free speech issue, including nasty webpages about school personnel. A teacher's hurt feelings probably wouldn't qualify as disruptive (and, yes,  I know that sounds callous.)  Sometimes free speech is painful. 

Remember that I am not a lawyer although I sometimes pretend to be one on the Internet.

Does your district attempt to regulate off-site student speech? And how? 

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Reader Comments (2)

If I read the recent Supreme Court ruling correctly, there isn't much we can do besides discuss it. I personally believe that if we emphasise that anything that is typed on a web page is there forever somewhere, this might help those students who are on the edge.
I personally have only had one issue with one student in all of my high school teaching career, so I am not sure how prevelant this really is.

January 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Hi Kenn,

The big take-away for me from the ruling is that schools must be very, very careful in attempting to discipline kids for off-site, online behaviors. Schools that have taken away scholarships and things like that will lose if sued by the student or family.


January 25, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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