Thursday, October 26, 2006

Blogs, Schools, and the Law

My principal was kind enough to pass along "Blogs: A New Frontier for School Discipline Issues" in the fall 2006 edition of A Legal Memorandum, the National Association of Secondary School Principals quarterly law publication. It appears as though only NASSP members can access this online, so ask your principal for a chance to see her copy.

Overall, the newsletter's focus is on students' personal blogs (those created and posted to from off campus using no school resources) and the free speech protections afforded. In short, unless the school can demostrate "a material and substantial disruption to the educational environment", personal blogs are protected and schools may not take disciplinary action if the student writes something unpleasent.

What surprised me, because I admit I was expecting a pretty authoritarian, lock-it-all-down approach, is that the authors then advocate for a proactive stance--educate students as to the legal issues and appropriate use of blogs.
It is likely that in the long run continuous dialogue and up-to-date education in the appropriate use of electronic media will be far more effective than punishments such as suspensions and expulsion.

The Hazelwood decision, which I learned about in my preservice classes because it allows principals lattitude in censoring school newspapers, has an interesting implication for school-sponsored blogs.

Of crucial importance in [the Hazelwood] decision was the Court's comment that the school administration does not have the right to censor student speech (oral or written) that is part of an open forum.

Calling a classroom blog an open forum would certainly seem reasonable. What implications would that then have for the classroom or school? Does a student's class blog posting have more First Amendment protection than an article in the school paper? These are going to become pressing questions in the coming months/years.

However we choose to engage these questions, I can only take away hope and encouragement from the fact that the NASSP is advocating a reasoned, education-based approach to online resources. Now if we could only get more our education leadership blogging.

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