Currently I'm taking a School Law course for my MSE in Educational Leadership. My professor asked us to summarize an article about an issue involving freedom of speech and students. Those interested in school law, school leadership, student rights, or social media are encouraged to read this post. Cheers!
Wilson, C. (2012). Students profane tweet stirs free-speech debate. Associated Press. Retrieved from http://news.yahoo.com/students-profane-tweet-stirs-free-speech-debate-185703148.html
Austin Collin, a student at Garrett High School in Garrett, Indiana, was suspended after writing a tweet on March 16, 2012 at 2:30am from his home. The tweet contained a profanity: the f-word. A few days later school administrators informed Collin that he was expelled from school. Collin’s mother believes that it is retaliation for a few other discipline problems from before this episode. According to the mother, Collin violated the school dress code by wearing a kilt to school and wrote a profanity on a school computer once before while on campus. The problem in this case is that Collin claims he wrote the tweet on his own computer and not on the school network. The school administration claims that the tweet did come from either a school computer or the school network which is how they know about the tweet. The school network automatically flags any profanities sent out by electronic means or unapproved websites visited. Although the school officials aren’t allowed to directly comment on a student discipline case because of confidentiality issues, it is clear that somehow they were aware of the late night tweet.
The article details the landmark Tinker case as the Supreme Courts historical take on student freedom of speech. The article goes on to explain that state legislatures and school officials are looking for guidance from the courts for clarification on student free speech off-campus, but that the Supreme Court as denied to hear three cases about student off-campus speech in this session. Lower court rulings are all over the map and without clear guidance, state legislatures and school officials are making choices that may cost them later.
The school policy appears to be punishment for any student who uses a school computer or the school network to send profanities electronically. Also there is punishment for visiting any unapproved websites. Because this article doesn’t publish the exact wording of the policy, it is impossible to determine if it unconstitutionally written.
Although this is a news article and not really a review of a policy per se, I do feel there are some issues that need to be dealt with. There are some issues not clearly known in the situation in the article, but one thing is for sure -- the school will find itself in court over this matter. Not only will they find themselves in court, they will probably lose the case. I can see several problems with who the administration handled this student discipline matter. First, expulsion is an extreme form of punishment. This is a violation of the students Fourteenth Amendment right to equal treatment. The student has a right to an education and poses no threat to the health or safety of the school environment. There has been no threat made by the student toward any student, faculty member, or administrator. Furthermore, based on Tinker the administration has no legs to stand on, because there was no material or substantial disruption to the educational process. In addition, the question of whether or not Austin Collin intentionally meant to send the tweet from the school network also posses a dilemma. However, even if he intentionally sent the tweet from the school network, the punishment fails to fit the crime and is a possible violation of Collin’s rights under the Eighth Amendment -- the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. With these things in mind, I disagree with how the administration of the school handled this discipline case. Although I believe that Collin should be suspended for his actions, expulsion is way overboard on the part of the school.