"Warily, Schools Watch Students on the Internet." So reads a headline in the New York Times today on a matter that's now dominating the news and this blog.
The article, written by Somini Sengupta, nicely summarizes various points of concern arising from the interaction(s) of schools, students, social media, and now state and federal courts. If readers are unfamiliar with the ethical and legal issues at stake, Sengupta's article is a good introduction. A preview:
For years, a school principal’s job was to make sure students were not creating a ruckus in the hallways or smoking in the bathroom. Vigilance ended at the schoolhouse gates.
Now, as students complain, taunt and sometimes cry out for help on social media, educators have more opportunities to monitor students around the clock. And some schools are turning to technology to help them. Several companies offer services to filter and glean what students do on school networks; a few now offer automated tools to comb through off-campus postings for signs of danger. For school officials, this raises new questions about whether they should — or legally can — discipline children for their online outbursts.
The problem has taken on new urgency with the case of a 12-year-old Florida girl who committed suicide after classmates relentlessly bullied her online and offline.
Sengupta also writes about a recent and alarming case out of Nevada that offers yet another example of why schools must be empowered to respond to what students post online. According to the article:
In the Nevada case, a 16-year-old boy bragged on Myspace about having guns at home, and threatened to kill fellow students on a particular date. He also cited the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, in which a troubled student killed 32 people.
The boy ended up spending 31 days in a local jail and was suspended from school for 90 days. He then sued the district, saying his free speech rights had been violated.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the claim. It called his threats “alarming” and so specific that they presented “a real risk of significant disruption” to the school. Administrators were justified, the court ruled, for penalizing what was ostensibly off-campus speech.
See the rest of the Times article here.