Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I love stories like this XXXV

This is a follow-on to ILSLT XXIV, the Jeff Fraser expulsion story. One of the blogs that contains comments on this affair pointed to this story from the Wall Street Journal from last November. It contains some wonderful examples of school administration bureaucratese in reference to one Laura Iacovacci, a 16-year-old student suspended from Paramus High School in Paramus, N.J., for the heinous crime of blogging unkindly about other students:
Ms. Iacovacci said that when she returned to school, she was called to see the principal, Lina Gudelis, who showed her a fat stack of pages she had printed out from MySpace. Ms. Gudelis suspended Ms. Iacovacci for three more days. She wrote in a letter to Ms. Iacovacci's parents, "Please be advised that should Laura continue to participate in harassing behavior, either verbally or in writing, including websites, she will be suspended and may be transferred out of the classes she shares with the recipient of the harassment."

Ms. Gudelis, the principal, declined to discuss Ms. Iacovacci. But she said it is appropriate for schools to hold students accountable for their online writings. "Unlike a conversation that might take place on an email or on the telephone, these sites are accessible to the public. So, yes, it can be harmful to students when others are posting things about them that are hurtful," she said.

The story quotes Thomas H. Clarke Jr., a San Francisco attorney, who says that
a handful of courts have examined cases in which schools disciplined students for off-campus writings, taking into account factors such as whether the student published threats against the school or other students, and whether the materials were accessed on campus by students or administrators. While some courts have ruled against schools that tried to punish students for their Web sites -- even when the content was vulgar or threatening -- others have decided that online writings can be subject to school restrictions. "The courts are all over the place. Trying to find consistency among all these different rules and opinions is extraordinarily difficult," Mr. Clarke said.

There have been moments in court when the students have triumphed:
Still, some schools have run into trouble in their efforts to rein in student bloggers. New Jersey's Oceanport School District this month paid a $117,500 settlement to 17-year-old Ryan Dwyer after a district court ruled that the school district violated Mr. Dwyer's First Amendment rights by punishing him for a Web site he created in April 2003, which blasted his middle school and some faculty members. Mr. Dwyer wrote on the site, among other things, "MAPLE PLACE IS THE WORST SCHOOL ON THE PLANET!" and "The Principal, Dr. Amato, is not your friend and is a dictator." The site also included a message board where other students could post messages, but Mr. Dwyer warned students against using profanity or threatening language. Within days, though, one student posted a comment that referred to a teacher as "that dirty Jew." Another wrote of the school staff, "we gotta pull the plug on them."

The school suspended Mr. Dwyer, benched him from the baseball team for a month and excluded him from a class trip to Philadelphia. Mr. Dwyer took down the site, but he and his parents sued the Oceanport School District, saying the punishment was a violation of his First Amendment rights. Earlier this year, a district court sided with the Dwyers, ruling that Mr. Dwyer could not be held responsible for other students' comments and that his own postings, if insulting, were not grounds for punishment by the school.

Jeff Fraser was expelled from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, IN, for writing a satirical "book". I have not yet laid my hands on a copy, electronic or otherwise.

But the school is now catching flak from at least one school board member and a libertarian candidate for the school board. The school board member is Jon Olinger, a member of the Fort Wayne Community Schools Board. He posted a comment on the Indiana Parley blog:
This appears to be a classic case of school administration being devoid of common sense. I don't know what the cause of this infliction is, but NWAC schools does not have a monopoly on it. Ocasionally a decision is taken by school administration, such as this, that makes me wonder...what were you thinking...

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