Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Free Speech, Bullying and HighSchool Students

Link to the original.

The Layshock v. Hermitage School District and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District cases were heard by the Third Circuit court this spring and summer. Yesterday, the court issued two simultaneous opinions to resolve how much control high schools may exercise over their students’ off-campus, online speech. In Layshock v. Hermitage School District and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, the 14-judge court delivered two landmark victories for free speech.

The judges held that school officials cannot, “reach into a child’s home and control his/her actions there to the same extent that it can control that child when he/she participates in school sponsored activities.”  In the two respective cases, students had been disciplined for creating MySpace profiles intended to mock their principals.  The Third Circuit ruled that schools cannot punish students’ online speech simply because it is vulgar, lewd, or offensive.
So here's the question for all of the schools which are trying to police bullying: if the act occurred at home, using a home computer, how can the school discipline the student for it? What if the iPhone's Facebook app is used from the sidelines of a football game? This isn't Tinker - in fact the Justices specifically said they weren't at that point - so what is an over-bearing, self-important little HIP principal to do?

More specifically, when are we as a society going to figure out what to do with our bullied children?

(Hint: Start with a visit to the home of the bully. Asking the school to do that for you is inappropriate.)


  1. In a way it's understandable that the schools would think they have the authority to do this since, over time, as parents relinquish more and more of their responsibilities while expecting the schools to pick up the slack.

  2. The question of control arises for teachers too. Some have been disciplined recently for their online activity even when it occurred outside school hours. Just how much control should our administrators have over what we say and do outside class? Little to none, I would say. But that I know is not likely to happen. I for one worry a bit about what I post online, especially when I am critical of my students and their parents.

  3. Which is why this is Curmudgeon's blog. The one that is associated with me is squeaky clean.

  4. On my own blog I have been rigidly consistent that schools should not even attempt to police or discipline off-campus speech or conduct, unless that speech or conduct has a *direct* effect at school. Don't we educators have enough to do already, without trying to take on more responsibilities?