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by Alan Gomez
Monday, Nov. 06, 2006 at 5:31 PM
I don't have a problem with this when private schools censor and supress the free speach of their students. But I do have a big problem with this when the government PUBLIC schools do it!
Blogs landing students in trouble
Posts from home raise free-speech questions
Kids increasingly are spending their free time blogging and chatting on social networking Web sites, and school administrators aren't enthusiastic.
School boards across the country already have blocked sites such as MySpace and Facebook on school computers. But school districts now are reaching into students' home computers, severely punishing and even expelling students for what they write on those sites from home.
• A student at an Indianapolis-area school was expelled for making sexually explicit comments about a teacher on MySpace.
• Officials at a Pittsburgh school kicked a student off the volleyball team for an Internet message that criticized an art teacher.
• A cheerleader at a Texas school was kicked off the squad for derogatory comments someone posted on her blog about other cheerleaders.
The issue has created a free-speech debate between school administrators worried about the disruption of the learning process on one hand, and students, parents and First Amendment advocates worried about whether overzealous school boards are overstepping their bounds on the other. The debate is beginning to be explored in courts around the country.
"Some courts have said that speech which is done on school computers is clearly within the domain of the administration to set reasonable standards for. Some have said if it's off-site, then the students are fully protected. Some have said if it can be read by people on the school premises, then it comes within the jurisdiction of the school board," says Tom Clarke, a San Francisco attorney who works on First Amendment issues. "Those are the three crazy standards that currently exist."
School and First Amendment experts are unsure how many school districts have implemented such policies. But the current confusion over how far school boards can go has left many students caught off guard when they are punished.
Kelsey Larson is the Texas girl who was kicked off her cheerleading team last year when a friend posted a derogatory statement about other cheerleaders on her Internet diary, or blog. Officials at Birdville High School in North Richland Hills claimed it constituted a violation of the code of conduct for cheerleaders, which states they must "exhibit high moral standards."
Larson and her parents fought back, and she was reinstated earlier this year.
"If they spend as much time teaching as they spend telling parents how to parent, maybe we'd have smarter kids coming out of their schools," says Kelsey's mother, Kristin Larson.
In the Indianapolis case, Carmel High School officials expelled a student for making sexually explicit remarks and suspended another student for 10 days for racially offensive remarks about a teacher. In the Pittsburgh example, Jack Flaherty was kicked off his volleyball team by the Keystone Oaks School District for criticizing an art teacher. Flaherty sued and received ,000 in a settlement from the district.
Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, defended Flaherty and other students expelled and punished by schools for statements they made online from their home computers.
He agrees that districts should punish students who post admissions of illegal activity.
But for the most part, he says, schools are going after students who simply are venting about teachers.
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