Starting off the new year in Washington Post
- Ok, so it does not hurt my news year's resolutions to start off the year
quoted in the Washington Post (except perhaps for the resolution not to work
quite as hard. ;-))
Story on cyberbullying.
What the reporter did not quote, however, is what I want to impart to
educators. So sorry, but this is Ed Law 101.
Historically, there are two philosophies that underlie the Free Speech
Government has the authority to determine what speech is contrary to the
public good, including such social values as order, morality, and religion.
English Common Law ~ Blackstone
The role of government is to enforce the fundamental rights of individuals
if those rights are injured by the exercise of speech by another. John Locke
The courts have used both theories in cases involving student speech ~
unfortunately without discussing the underlying historical-based rationale.
If school officials understand the underlying rationale, it is far easier to
determine when disciplinary actions are ~ or are not ~ appropriate.
When students are on-campus, school officials have the authority to respond
to inculcate values of a civilized society ~ Common Good ~ and protect other
students and ensure the delivery of instruction ~ Natural Rights.
The authority to inculcate values ends at the schoolhouse gate.
But the authority ~ and responsibility ~ to respond to off-campus student
speech continues ~ if the impact of that speech has come through the
schoolhouse gates and has or could significantly interfere with the rights
of other students or the delivery of instruction.
School officials have the authority to impose formal discipline for
off-campus student speech if that speech has or a reasonable person would
anticipate it could cause a substantial disruption at school or interference
with the rights of students to be secure. There are three typical
situations: violent altercations between students, hostile environment
preventing a student from participating at school, or significant
interference with the delivery of instruction or school operations.
N the other hand, students also retain important free speech rights -
especially the right of petition. "Congress shall make no law abridging
the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of
grievances." ³A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which
may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.² Declaration
The right of citizens to petition government officials to correct a policy
or right a wrong is fundamental to a democratic society. Students¹ right to
petition has not been addressed by the courts. Some students are using the
Internet to communicate their displeasure of school policies or the actions
of school staff ~ frequently using objectionable language. This is obviously
displeasing school officials.
The right of students to use the Internet to petition ~ posting material
that raises concerns about school staff or policies ~ must be supported. It
is their constitutional right!
But the right to petition does not extend to the right to engage in
defamation, invade the privacy of others, or post material that shows
someone in ³false light² ~ all of which are civil law remedies to speech
that has ³crossed the line² from political protest to causing harm.
Probably a bit too long for a news story.
Ok, I will shut up now and enjoy the first day.
Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D.
Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social
Aggression, Threats, and Distress (Research Press)
Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens: Helping Young People Learn to Use the
Internet Safely and Responsibly (Jossey-Bass)