In an article found at the Sci-Tech Today.com’s site, MySpace-Suspension Rulings Muddle Issues, we find some conflicting developments:
Cases involving students who created MySpace parodies of principals have reached divergent outcomes. One ruling upheld the suspension of a student who posted sexually explicit material; a second said school officials have no authority in the home. School boards, free-speech advocates and others had been awaiting the rulings for clarity.
One 3rd U.S. Circuit Court panel upheld the suspension of a Schuylkill County eighth-grader who posted sexually explicit material along with her principal’s photograph on a fake MySpace page.
However, a different three-judge panel said that school officials in Mercer County cannot reach into a family’s home and police the Internet. That case also involves a MySpace parody of a principal created by a student at home.
From the court records we see the reasoning behind these opposing rulings:
“Electronic communication allows students to cause a substantial disruption to a school’s learning environment even without being physically present. We decline to say that simply because the disruption to the learning environment originates from a computer located off campus, the school should be left powerless to discipline the student,” Judge Michael Fisher wrote in a footnote.
“The school’s right to maintain an environment conducive to learning does not trump Justin’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression based on the evidentiary record in this case,” McVerry wrote in a 2007 opinion. “Public schools are vital institutions, but their reach is not unlimited.”
That line, “based on the evidentiary record,” leaves us wondering where the school’s reach will stop. Homeschoolers know the first step is not enrolling in public schools.
Yet, while the impact on free speech and the reach of the school’s authority is alarming, in my mind these issues hide the underlying problem. We are in this kind of muddle because schools are expected to do a job they can never do – raise kids.