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."
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.
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