Thursday, October 05, 2006

Censorchimps: An Indiana Subspecies?

Is censorship by school officials of students' outside of school online activities ever warranted?

One Indiana school district is considering the adoption of rules
holding students accountable for what they publish online:
Clark-Pleasant students who post threatening and disruptive comments about others online soon could face punishment at school, if Clark-Pleasant's School Board approves a proposed policy.

The new guidelines would apply to student and teacher postings on blogs and social networking sites such as, said Jim White, the Johnson County district's director of technology. As more students turn to the Internet to vent about their classmates, principals are facing new disciplinary challenges.

"It's becoming brutally apparent that things said on MySpace and other assorted Web sites are spilling back into the schools and causing problems," he said.

The proposed policy, which had its first reading at the board's Tuesday meeting, informs students and teachers that they will be held legally responsible for anything posted online, including material deemed defamatory, obscene, proprietary or libelous.

In addition, the policy reminds students and teachers that the posting of confidential school information online is banned.

White said he expects the policy to serve as more of a reminder for students than teachers, most of whom already know what is acceptable to post online.

"I think it will have no effect on teachers," he said. "It's just giving them fair warning, like any other corporation would."

The board likely will vote on the policy at its next meeting, Oct. 17.
Not surprisingly, many students are opposed. Their thoughts are summarized by high school senior Brock Anderson, who represents himself very well:
A recent article about the Clark Pleasant School Corporation addressed a proposed policy that would allow the schools to patrol or monitor student blogs, mainly based upon inquiries from concerned students, parents or teachers. A student with offensive material on a blog could be held liable at school. As a high school senior, I was appalled that this was being considered.

Initially, the censorship may seem like a great idea, but it could have devastating consequences for a student publishing blogs that do not meet school rules but have legal content. The school, by Indiana law (IC 20-33-8-14), does not have the jurisdiction to suspend or expel students on any grounds while not in transit to school, at school, or with a school group.

Understandably, students are upset about the prospect of school administrators taking censorship into their own hands. Our First Amendment guarantees a right to free speech, but such school censorship for activities done privately at home seems to violate that right.

We must decide whether the proposed policy is actually a good thing for this community. As Stalin, Mao and other censorship advocates have taught us, leading down this road may not be the best way to take on offensive material.
This one is tricky.

The courts have given school administrators wide latitude when dealing with students' on-campus publishing activites, but seem to be opposed to any restriction of their off-campus First Amendment rights.

Tricky indeed.
See our latest EduPosts here and today's Extra Credit Reading there.