Can a student be punished for language critical of school administrators posted on their personal blog? How about if the principal finds one of the words employed offensive?
In at least one case, an appeals court says they can.
The Court of Appeals noted that adults may have a constitutional right to use vulgar or offensive speech in order to make a point, but that it “may legitimately give rise to disciplinary action by a school” if a school is responsible for “teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior.” Although Avery made her statements off school grounds and outside of school hours, they were related to school activities and ultimately caused some level of disruption within the school setting.
If this was a wild rant with a purpose of inciting students to violent or illegal behavior, I might agree with this ruling.
However, if you read the entry, there is none of that. It’s actually rather tame with the possible exception of that one word used to describe the administrators. A word that goes unbleeped on broadcast television.
All of which makes the court’s action somewhat disturbing.
The decision concerns free speech advocates because of the cloudy nature of the blog post. No threats were made and no major student demonstrations occurred–at most, the students were a bit “riled up” (according to Avery’s testimony) over having their event possibly cancelled and their student council going to great lengths to turn the decision around. Most importantly, the decision will likely be used as further precedent in the future for schools (and possibly colleges and universities) to take action against students for their postings around the ‘Net.
It probably won’t be long before another principal decides to take action against a student for a blog post with no “bad” words, one that simply takes exception with school policy.