Sunday, December 04, 2005

When Students Blog

Student bloggers have become a subject of controversy in some Texas schools:
Teen Web logs — diaries kept online where anyone can see them — are creating a disciplinary predicament for school administrators in Tarrant County and across the nation, education and legal experts say.

Principals have intervened when unkind words posted on the Internet caused confrontations between students at school, and some students are being disciplined for what they write online outside of their school activities.

A Birdville High School cheerleader was kicked off the freshman squad last month for having vulgar language in a Web log, or blog, she maintains on her home computer.

Grapevine-Colleyville school district officials said a student was removed from an extracurricular activity this year because of the student’s online comments.

And last spring, a Martin High School cheerleader in Arlington was taken off the squad for something she wrote in a blog, district officials confirmed.

The punishment of bloggers pits school officials’ desire to enforce their codes of conduct against students’ constitutional rights, and courts are struggling to settle the issue.

“The problem here is the First Amendment, which prevents any governmental entity from regulating or punishing you in any way for your free speech,” said Frank Colosi, an attorney for the Fort Worth ACLU.

Unless students’ free speech is disruptive to the classroom, they can’t be punished for it, he said.

Courts have disagreed on how much leverage school districts have over what students write on the Internet, said Tom Clarke, a San Francisco lawyer who handles First Amendment issues.

“A lot of courts distinguish first off whether postings on the Internet were made in a school facility,” Clarke said.

Courts have been fairly consistent in ruling that schools can discipline students for what they write using school computers, he said.
I agree that schools are on safe ground when they discipline students for what they publish on school-provided computers, but as for punishing them for what is being written off-site and with their own computers is an altogether different matter. As long as what they write can't be deemed by a court as libelous, I wouldn't be surprised to find any guilty verdict overturned upon appeal.

Sooner or later, this will wind-up before the Supreme Court. What those nine appointed-for-life-no-accountability-whatsoever-to-the-people individuals will do is as unpredictable as an afternoon's fishing down at the 'ole millpond.

Related: BoardBuzz, Bud the Teacher
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