EFF And ACLU Explain To Tennessee School Board That Its New Internet Policy Violates Both The 1st & 4th Amendments

from the a-twofer dept

We've seen over and over again recently that schools seem to have a bizarre notion of how the First Amendment works with things like "free speech zones" and the like. There are all sorts of policies popping up that try to ban free speech. In perhaps the most famous court case concerning free speech in schools, Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court noted, importantly, that students do not shed their constitutional rights just because they've entered a school building. More recently, the courts have (tragically) chipped away at that ruling, but the core of it still stands. And schools still don't seem to realize that it's true. Instead, they seem to want, increasingly, to regulate speech of students in completely unconstitutional ways.

Over in Tennessee, the EFF and the ACLU have teamed up to challenge a new school board policy from the Williamson County Board of Education, which is something of a twofer: not only does it violate the First Amendment, but the Fourth Amendment as well. The policy is the school's "Acceptable Use, Media Release, and Internet Safety Procedures and Guidelines" that effectively bar students from ever saying anything the school deems "inappropriate" or "unauthorized" on any computer equipment that they bring to school (even if the speech is done off-campus) and also make all of the students subject to searches of their devices and monitoring of what they do online. Here's the short summary from the letter (which is quite detailed and runs 10 pages long):
Of particular concern are (i) the social media guidelines applicable to students when engaged in off-campus speech; (ii) the "Bring Your Own Technology" guidelines, pursuant to which students are required to consent to suspicionless searches of their electronic devices "at any time" for any "school- related purpose"; and (iii) the network security and email guidelines, pursuant to which all data and communications of network users are subject to suspicionless monitoring.

While the Policy may be the product of a well-intentioned effort to ensure student safety and network security, and to ensure that classrooms are not disrupted, the Policy goes too far and, as written, violates students' constitutional rights. It (a) functions as a prior restraint on speech, allowing school officials to censor student speech in and out of school, and (b) permits officials to conduct suspicionless searches of (i) any electronic devices that students bring to school and (ii) all data and communications stored or transmitted on the WCS network. In so doing, the guidelines overstep the school district's authority and impermissibly burden the First and Fourth Amendment rights of WCS students. As the United States Supreme Court famously held in the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, students do not "shed their constitutional rights . . . at the schoolhouse gate."
Let's hope the school district recognizes its mistake, otherwise it appears that there may be a legal challenge to the policy coming up shortly.


Filed Under: first amendment, fourth amendment, free speech, policy, schools, social media, tennessee
Companies: williamson county schools


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2014 @ 5:21pm

    Re: Re:

    Suspicious internet behavior is defined as:
    1) Using TOR
    2) Not using TOR
    3) Not using the internet

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