Politician Recognizes That Students Deserve Free Speech Rights Too

from the free-speech-is-good dept

There have been a number of cases recently concerning students getting punished for writing mean things about teachers or school administrators on social networking sites or blogs. In the past, there was a pretty clear legal line in terms of what was and what was not allowed: if the speech took place on campus, the school had the right to do something about it. If it took place off campus, it was the student’s free speech rights. However, some courts have begun to change that bright line, by saying that since internet sites can be reached from the school, schools now have the right to punish students for things they say online. This has numerous troubling implications when it comes to basic free speech.

Amazingly, there appear to be some politicians who actually recognize this. Up in Connecticut, where a 16-year-old girl was disciplined for calling school administrators “douche bags” on her blog, state Senator Gary LeBeau is actually proposing a law that would protect student free speech in such cases. Even more impressive, LeBeau was a teacher for 35-years, so he certainly understands where teachers and administrators are coming from — but he says that the free speech issue is more important. He says that it’s not right that a school should be able to interfere with a student’s conversations. Not surprisingly, the National School Boards Association is fighting against the bill, and it would be surprising if it got enough support to pass — but it’s nice to know at least one politician out there recognizes a student’s right to speak their mind from home.

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Comments on “Politician Recognizes That Students Deserve Free Speech Rights Too”

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Anonymous Coward says:

As the father of a 16 year old, it is my opinion that the limits of his speech are established, primarily, by me. Until he is legally an adult, his actions, especially those that don’t violate the law, are my responsibility, unless I have authorized another entity to deal with them. If he says or does something that violates the school’s rules while he is in their care (ie. at school) then they have some recourse. If my son does something outside of school, the school has no responsibility, no authority, and therefore no recourse. It is my job to appropriately discipline him for actions such as those done by the girl in Conneticut, not the school’s or the state’s.

Erik M Jacobs (user link) says:

Free Speech = Free Speech (except when it's not?)

Why does it matter where a student is if they choose to comment on their educators? Since when is it not permissible to have an opinion about others?

Granted, there is a line between opinion and libel, but this is not exactly a person screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater. At what point do we become hypocritical about being such a free and open country where innovation and new thought are rewarded when we have to adopt a form of McCarthyism to keep some kind of theoretical internet order in our schools? (Are you no longer a blogger about your professors?)

Educators are there to educate. It is of no consequence what students think about these individuals if they are learning and performing. I have had many teachers that I would have written nasty and/or funny things about online, and the ones that would’ve been derided the worst were probably my best and most inspiring professors.

Jonathan Donihue says:

Re: Re: Free Speech = Free Speech (except when it's not?)

Yes, anonymous coward, but if you decided to write a letter to the editor of your news paper saying that and they print it, no court in the land would support a contempt charge. What if the comments made by the students were made in a letter to the editor or a private newsletter. Those can be read on campos.

Anonymous Coward says:

As far as blogging goes…why don’t they just block access to the sites from school? Wouldn’t that solve a majority of these problems?

Why don’t the teachers post myspace blogs making fun of the kid’s grades, problems…etc? “Awwww little Avery Doninger failed math this semester, she may have an astonishing career cooking fries at McDonalds. Congratulations Avery!”

fprintf says:

Senator seems pretty level headed

This is the same Senator who is in favor of loosening the State of CT drug laws, and in fact was a co-sponsor (among many) of our 2007 law decriminalizing medicinal marijuana. http://www.votesmart.org/issue_keyvote_detail.php?cs_id=13533&can_id=30210

Unfortunately it was vetoed by the Governor.

What’s with all the Connecticut focused stories lately? Between Atty. General Scott Blumenthal and now this, it seems this state is in national headlines way too much for such a small state.

Yakko Warner says:

Not just schools.

…since internet sites can be reached from the school, schools now have the right to punish students for things they say online…

This is just like Kentucky claiming ownership of all gambling sites, regardless of location of ownership, because they have a law and they can “see” the internet. Or other examples of countries attempting to apply their laws to sites outside of their country, because they can “see” them on the internet (which specific examples I know I’ll get wrong if I try to cite them off the top of my head).

Unfortunately, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, just in a much more local context.

It also shows off a bit of the Streisand Effect:

Before school administrators found and disseminated the salty blog post, almost no one had even seen it, she said.

“It didn’t get on campus,” she said, noting that only three people read her daughter’s blog. “It was not a threat — it did not disrupt the school. It was exactly the type of speech that is meant to be protected by the First Amendment.”

Good for Senator LeBeau.

I’d like to know what logic the courts applied, though, when they “repeatedly sided against [the family]” in suits against the school.

Greg says:

Conflict of interest

It’s about time someone steps up for children’s rights in school. Their education should not be affected by their opinions of their teachers or school staff.

Schools shouldn’t have access to the internet for kids, and if there is access it should be heavily filtered to keep them on task. I bet though that these sites are being browsed by faculty and that’s where the problem is. Now, what is the faculty doing browsing a 16 year old girls personal page? Seems like a conflict of interest here on the schools part.

musefiddle says:

Re: Conflict of interest

First of all, online communities are not just for kids.People of all ages are members of these social networks. Group posts on FACEBOOK,MySpace,etc. can be viewed by any and all who use a search tool with a person’s name on it.
Individual’s profiles cannot be viewed if they select privacy settings on their profile. Students can now make libelous statements online and then cry “free speech”. There is a difference between venting frustration and catty comments about a teacher or professor and putting into print libelous comments that could possibly affect someone’s personal life or career.

Rahul says:

It seems ridiculous to me that this is even a question and not just common sense. Of course students have a right to free speech, just like all other human beings. Now I can understand the school’s point of view in a case where a student is disrupting their class, but outside of the classroom, the school has no say in what a student says or does. Now, if a student starts writing libelous statements rather than obvious opinion, that would be a different situation entirely. But calling an administrator a douche bag, as that 16 year old did, is obviously not meant to be a statement of fact, and therefore is not libel. And I’ll bet that blog posting got a lot more views after the school brought so much unwarranted attention to it. Just another example of schools overreacting to student behavior, what’s next? Handing out dress code violations to girls wearing short skirts in their myspace pics?

Jonathan Donihue says:

Re: Re:

It’s even more potentially dangerous than that. If a student rights a note, off school property, to a friend and that friend takes the note onto property can the writer be suspended? If I write a blog calling our president a Douche Bag dose the government have a right to retaliate? What we do to the weekest members of our socioty we will eventually do to eachother.

Dan says:

A student or teacher can be sued for libel and or slander. This is the proper and legal path to resolution. A generalized derogatory reference is neither, so ignore the comment and get on with your life. Better yet contact the complainer to see if they have a legitimate complaint, its called growth by learning. The attempted revenge by school officials is not effective and makes them look really petty and vindictive. If my child was in this school system I would demand an independent investigation and public report of this incident.

Annony says:

Ahhh the sad decline of respect for teachers and other people. A lot of students do NOT like teachers who are strict [even though it is for their own good and they only realise that later in life]. If only people were taught to respect others – I think a lot of this would not be happening. Respect for older people is also a thing of the past.
Students need to learn that teachers are there to teach them and should be participating not fighting that.
That being said – there are also a small number of teachers who should not be teachers, BUT i think that is not the norm.

Curmudgeon says:

...And out come the reactionaries

“Ahhh the sad decline of respect for teachers and other people. A lot of students do NOT like teachers who are strict [even though it is for their own good and they only realise that later in life]. If only people were taught to respect others – I think a lot of this would not be happening. Respect for older people is also a thing of the past.”

Of course. It was all better in the good old days when students showed proper deference to their elders, regardless of their shortcomings, and teachers never had to adapt their teaching methods to meet the students’ changing needs because the job of a student, after all, is to shut up and listen.

Sarah (user link) says:

The LeBeau law does look great – especially in creating a “bright line” between state control and free expression. There’s so much panic about students online in general that schools are quick to cry cyberbullying and clamp down on student speech. Cyberbullying is so vague, the concerns about online speech overblown (Evans’ infamous blog post was read by three people), and schools are in positions of power to claim that off-campus, online speech can be treated like on-campus speech.

I’ve written more about it here: http://ncacblog.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/when-teachers-are-criticized-principals-mocked-is-it-cyberbullying/

eumis says:

student free speech

student free speech means when you are allow 2 do anything outside of school hours and the school shouldn’t worry on what we do outside of school its other life and students should be able to have freedom outside of school case some students don’t like school and we are foced to go to school to learn and when we get out of school thats when we get to talk to other friends and more

Kevin Atkinson says:

This Happened to Me

I was recently suspended for creating a fan page on facebook for my high school teacher. All of the material was posted off campus, yet they claimed that the incident was identity theft, although I never posted a picture of the teacher of stated any of his information besides his name and the fact that he worked at my school. UNJUST!

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