I had just about given up. The growing number of instances around the nation in which students are being punished by their schools for opinions and statements published on their personal Facebook pages and blogs—often under the supposed authority of “anti-bullying” rules—is disturbing and indefensible, the equivalent of schools censoring students’ phone conversations or dinner time chats. This is an issue made for the American Civil Liberty Union’s mission of defending free speech, yet the organization had been loudly silent.
All is forgiven. We can now fairly assume that it was waiting for an especially egregious case—and one that didn’t involve alleged bullying—that it could win and set some strong precedent. It found one: a high school senior suspended and kicked out of an honors club because he criticized a teacher in a Facebook post, “from his own computer, in his own bedroom, at his parents’ home.”
The post was up for less than 24 hours, and was restricted to 10 friends. Nonetheless, Brusly High School Principal Walter Lemoine (in New Orleans) suspended the student who wrote it based on the school’s “Improper access of the Internet” policy. [To be clear: No school has the right to tell my child how he may use the internet in my home. That’s my job. Butt out.] As a result of the suspension, the senior, an A student who had not had any disciplinary difficulties previously, did poorly on two exams and had his permanent record marred. His parents are suing everyone in sight connected with the school, and should. And, finally, the ACLU is on the case.
There are plenty of villains in this sorry scenario, though the suspended student isn’t one of them:
- The teacher, who learned of the remark and didn’t have the sense of proportion to treat it like teachers used to treat restroom graffiti—kid stuff, not worthy of taking offense. Even though he knew it was a private communication not intended for wide distribution, he complained to the principle. Jerk. Weenie.
- The principal, who then went about the task of getting the student suspended for expressing his personal opinion. Censor. Bully.
- Superintendent of Schools David Corona, who refused to meet with the student’s mother, herself a teacher, to discuss the incident. Coward. Hack.
- The West Baton Rouge Parish School Board, which supported the action. Fools. Incompetents.
- And my personal candidate for the worst of the worst, one of the student’s ten “friends,” who took a screen shot of the post and sent it to the teacher, thus setting off the whole incident. Snake. Betrayer.
The student’s culpability? None whatsoever, unless what he wrote was a credible death threat.
No school should have authority to discipline students regarding what they communicate to each other when they aren’t in school, and that includes offensive comments, teasing and bullying. This principle needs to be absolute. Any other result constitutes an abuse of power, an unjust restriction on student’s individual autonomy and parental authority.
Finally, the ACLU is doing its job.
(You can read the complaint in the law suit here.)