CA High School Students Kill A First Amendment-Violating 'Social Media Contract'
from the more-cyberbullying-hysteria dept
The internet offers a ton of positives for schools but so many cling to the belief that it’s the enemy. If it’s not Wikipedia streamlining students’ research efforts, it’s the general unfiltered and unsupervised nature of the beast itself, one that doesn’t fit in with most administrations’ desire to control all inputs into their students’ minds.
Social media is even more problematic, what with its student-to-student interface and the ever-present possibility of bad things happening, like cyberbullying or the creation of child pornography (by consenting teens). It can even be turned into a vehicle for mockery of the school and its employees. The solution? Ultra-restrictive policies that minimize the school’s exposure in case of unpleasantness.
The Lodi School District in California recently added a new social media policy, one that wasn’t taken well by a number of Bear Creek High School students.
Last spring at the end of the 2013 school year, the Lodi school district adopted a new regulation, “Social Networking by Student-Athletes and Co-Curricular Participants,” that all students and their parents must sign as a requirement to take part in sports or clubs. Under the agreement, students agree to submit to the school’s disciplinary authority for what they say on social networking sites, even off-campus on their personal time. Among the types of speech the policy purports to ban are: (1) speech making references to violence or to alcohol or drug use, (2) speech indicating knowledge of cyberbullying, (3) speech that is “demeaning” about any person, (4) “liking” or “retweeting” a social media post that contains prohibited speech, and (5) “subtweeting,” or posting a comment on Twitter that refers to a person who is not named.
Anyone with a passing familiarity with the First Amendment can see the problems inherent in this policy, especially considering it claims authority over off-campus actions. Also problematic is the fact that the policy only affects students who wish to engage in extracurricular activities. The whole “contract” (as the district refers to it) is a gray area, something made worse by it being wholly subject to the personal interpretations of administration members.
Fortunately, Bear Creek students decided to fight back.
The social media policy of the Lodi Unified School District is eliciting strong protests from students at Bear Creek High School in Stockton, some of whom voiced their concerns at the board meeting Tuesday night.
The students represent more than 300 students who signed a petition against the district-wide policy on social media for high school students participating in extracurricular activities.
Faced with this, the administration leapt to the defense of the “social media contract.”
Bear Creek Principal Bill Atterberry told KCRA 3 the policy combats cyber-bullying.
“Online bullying is a problem, and we are looking to safeguard our students, because it is rampant,” he said.
Atterberry apparently believes that if he says something, it must be true. Cyberbullying is “rampant,” or so those writing cyberbullying policies and laws claim. But actual research shows the bullying and cyberbullying have been on the decline over the past decade. The decline is even greater when compared with numbers from the early-90s.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of efforts being made to fight an exaggerated problem and the frequent end result is overwrought policies like Lodi’s.
But back to Principal Atterbury and his assertion of non-factual claims as facts.
Students have also talked to an attorney, who said the contract is illegal.
“Our attorneys looked at it and said it was fine, so the attorneys will hash it out,” Atterberry said.
Keep this statement in mind for later. And this as well.
As it stands, students are required to sign the contract in order to participate in any extra-curricular activity.
The students’ protest drew the attention of the Student Press Law Center, which fired off a six page letter detailing the problems with the Lodi District’s “social media contract,” stating that the policy “fails to withstand the most basic First Amendment scrutiny.”
Faced with this additional heat, the district has decided to drop the policy.
Amid pressure from attorneys, the Lodi Unified School District is suspending a controversial Twitter and Facebook policy.
In a statement, the superintendent writes, “We will revise the statement in order to clearly communicate the original intent, which was to describe how social networking can lead to consequences at school.’
This doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing one does with a policy that’s legally “fine.” This seems more like something one does when they’re caught trying to enforce questionable policies.
The district claims the contract was more of a guideline, and they are set to review it on Tuesday.
Really? A week ago, it was a requirement. Any student wishing to partake in extracurricular activities was made to sign the “contract” first. This claim also runs counter to another statement the district made earlier in the week.
District officials said that clubs and athletics are singled out because it’s an activity that schools can take away from a student.
Odd. That also seems more like a “requirement” to me. After all, you can’t hold anything over a student’s head if you don’t have their signed consent.
It’s good to see something positive result from pushback against policies like these. Too often, school districts feel the best way to deal with things they have little control over is to craft broad, far-reaching policies. Sure, these districts may be operating with “good intentions,” but these policies are often cures that do more damage than the disease. Erring on the side of caution is still an error, no matter how pure the intentions behind it.