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Freedom of Speech an Issue When Schools Monitor Blogs

By Bajeda, Aug 4, 2006 | | |
  1. Bajeda
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    FREEDOM OF SPEECH AN ISSUE WHEN SCHOOLS MONITOR BLOGGERS

    Blogging has opened the flood gates for students to communicate with one another in whole new ways.

    But it has also put many students and school districts in uncharted waters where freedom of speech are concerned.

    Jim Spedit, professor of law at Northwestern University with a specialty in Internet law, said a number of issues have arisen across the country between schools and students in the area of blogging.

    Community High School District 128 in May approved changes to its Code of Conduct to include information discovered on Web postings and student blogging.

    "I think this ( District 128's action ) is another reaction to the fact that there is a lot of communication out there," he said. "In this case, the school district isn't excluding students because of the speech, but because of illegal behavior."

    He said the district's decision to use information gleaned from the blog sites as a basis to investigate student behavior is not problematic.

    The ACLU agrees.

    "When we think about these issues, it is not a problem for a principal or teachers to look at these sites and take action if they have a pretty strong feeling a crime has been committed or a school rule broken," said Ed Yohnka, ACLU director of communications. "What we don't want is a student to be punished for some speech that they write that the school just doesn't like."

    The district maintains it will not punish students for opinions expressed - only for behavior that violates its Code of Conduct.

    Despite that, some students and parents feel their personal liberties are being violated by administration monitoring their blog sites.

    "I think it's wrong. It's personal life outside of school," said Caitlin McCright, an incoming Libertyville High School sophomore.

    Carolla Ault, who has two high school-aged children at Libertyville High School, said she feels it is her job to monitor their children.

    "I can appreciate the district's intentions to keep students safe," she said. "Anytime any form of government is checking up on kids, parents abdicate their rights."

    Yohnka says courts have given school districts wider latitude to monitor students' behavior, such as through drug testing, when it comes to allowing them to participate in extracurricular sports.

    But while "Joe Smith" may have little wiggle room if he has signed a code of conduct and then confesses to drinking beer in a blog posting -- schools walk a fine line between action and speech if they choose to punish a student for criticizing a teacher, for example, he said.

    Marty Redish, professor of Constitutional Law at Northwestern University, said students don't give up their rights at the school door.

    "However, students have no rights to use drugs or misbehave in school," he said. "And, speech aimed at other students is tantamount to being said on school property."

    Redish said school districts do have the right to protect students against their own bad decisions.

    "It's taken case by case, but it ( free speech in blogged messages ) doesn't extend to communications about drugs," he said.

    Spedit said while students have no expectation of privacy when they post something on the Web, schools need to make sure that any disciplinary action taken is for behavior such as drinking, drugs, theft or vandalism and is not about speech.

    "There is increased attention paid to what is happening outside of school," he said. "The Internet is practically limiting our personal privacy. High School kids don't seem to realize that blog postings are not an e-mail between them and their friends. They are doing more than if they stood and shouted off their rooftops."


    http://www.pioneerlocal.com/cgi-bin/ppo-story/localnews/current/mu/08-03-06-960131.html

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    Interesting article. It seems terribly wrong that schools are developing increasing levels of authority over what students do outside of school. While they do want the students to do well and may try to stop them from doing things that may adversely affect their studies, this seems to go a bit far, not even to mention the freedom of speech issue it brings up.

    I think regardless of what a school's intentions are for students, education is a priviledge and students can choose to do with it what they want. So long as they follow the rules while on campus they should be fine, and the school has no business looking into what they do on their free time.

    Thoughts?


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Comments

  1. IHrtHalucingens
    Agreed. Schools can block or ban the access to blogging sites while on school property and using school computers, but behond that they have no authority. Students should be able to do what they wish while off campus and during non school hours. When i was in highschool they imposed rules and punishments for kids who got caught drinking under age or arrested for w/e at parties during the weekend and off school property. These two are very similar, if the student is doing something illegal off school property let the police deal with it and let the school mind their own business.
  2. old hippie 56
    The school administrators should worry about the quality of the education that the students are receiving, instead of tramping on personal freedoms. A big chunk of their budget is spent on security items, contracts for drug dogs, drug testing. But, teachers can't even get a well deserved raised unless they are also coaches, especially football coaches.
  3. fatal
    the major problem the government seems to have in interpereting free speech is this: when they wrote the constitution it said everyones freedom of speech is protected. it doesnt say protect the freedom of speech... oh except those damn meth cooks and potheads. theyre just right out. they dont count. and neither do people who dont agree with us...
  4. Bajeda
    Exactly. The system is so fucked up.

    I wrote a paper on something similar to this for my composition class last year. It was about the causes of the Columbine massacre. As I researched the information surrounding why the massacre happened I starting to feel as though the school's culture and societal system itself was greatly responsible for creating the tragedy. The school let the star athletes get away with anything (including sexual harrassment and bullying) and spent tons of money on the teams while not putting anything into counseling or psychological services.


    Whats more to this issue is that some communities seem to be supporting the move towards drug testing and monitoring of students' outside activities. What the hell? Don't these people realize that the US public education system is in enough trouble as it is, with underpaid teachers, lack of funds for extracurriculars and even for necessary equipment. Is wasting lots of money on a drug testing program or blog monitoring really going to help solve the problems with the education system.

    Its like the government is saying "Look at the shiny red ball! Look at the ball! Don't look over here where we are cutting education funds just look at the shiny glittery ball waving in front of you!!"

    Drugs aren't the reason that students are struggling in schools. Its the schools themselves. And if the school is in a predominantly black or latino area then its even worse.

    Damn, I forgot to even think of the monetary issue when I looked at this article. Now I'm even more pissed off!
  5. old hippie 56
    Here in Texas, average teacher pay is around $40k, while head football coaches is running around $80k. If they are a winning coach, they can expect more. Not uncommon for a head coach to make $100k.
    Out of 21 nations, the US are at the bottom in the quality of education received by students, it not the students fault, nor the teachers. In swim opinion, it has to be all the rules they must follow. The student handbook is getting thicker every year. Hell, when swim was in high school, we didn't even have a handbook. They printed the rules out on a piece of paper.
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