How can organizations, especially schools, think this kind of thing is acceptable, much less ethical? Who are the lawyers advising these people? Where do they think they’re living?
In Indiana, the North West Hendricks School Corporation’s “ Parent Code of Conduct ” says that parents should not use social media to make “rude or offensive comments” regarding school staff members or the school itself. Parents also cannot use social media to “campaign against or fuel outrage against individual staff members, the school or policies implemented by the school or district.” Violating the policy means that a parent can be removed from the school premises and banned from entering school grounds forevermore.
This is one of those unenforceable provisions that exist to intimidate and deceive those ignorant parents who were so badly educated (perhaps in the North West Hendricks School Corporation ) that they can’t spot an unconstitutional rule when they see one. No public school can tell parents what they can or can’t say on social media. This is a pure First Amendment violation, so blatant that it even roused the local ACLU from its accustomed slumber.
The ACLU of Indiana was asked about its assessment of the restriction on parents’ speech, and legal director Ken Falk replied,
“I think this is flagrantly unconstitutional. The overarching problem is you have the government saying if we don’t like what you’re saying, we can punish you — but the government is not allowed to do that. That’s why we have the First Amendment.”
The rule has been in the Parent Code since 2016, but nobody reads these things. It is coming to the fore now because the district is currently keeping a teacher on its payroll despite allegations of sexual misconduct toward a student. Some parents have been discussing the situation on Facebook, and wonder about the school’s response. The district made a point of handing out copies of the Parent Code of Conduct at a December school board meeting, and it was taken by many as a warning.
As Falk pointed out, using the Code this way is chilling speech. “I think the existence of the policy itself is a First Amendment violation,” he said. “If a parent contacts us and says, ‘This policy is in effect and I feel constrained by what I say on social media,’ they’ve been damaged, and we can file a lawsuit against the school.”
He also wonders, as I do, how a school that thinks trying to silence dissent from parents can be trusted to teach their children. “Students are learning in civics what the First Amendment means. This is not what the First Amendment means,” Falk said. “I have no problem with schools encouraging people to be more polite, but you can’t punish someone for being impolite.”
What? Hate speech is illegal, isn’t it? Do you want to guess what the students in the district are taught?
After the Code’s speech restrictions were publicized, the district administrators did what is usually done when an illegal provision is pointed out. (When I told my gym that the line in my contract that said I couldn’t sue for any injuries, included those inflicted by gym employees intentionally, I was told, “Oh, we’d never try to enforce that!” Then why is it in the contract? To misinform and intimidate, of course!) They explained to the press that the Code didn’t mean what it literally says, stating, “NWHSC is concerned with policing its social media platforms only and reserves the right to determine what is acceptable there. As for social media and the First Amendment, no action has or will be taken regarding what others may say or share on social media, but encourages civility in all forms of discourse.”
There are multiple aspects of this story that suggest that no responsible parent should entrust a child’s education to these people.
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