Private Schools Versus Teen Bloggers

    January 17, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

Some private schools have taken extreme steps to quell the use of blogs and social networking sites by their students; teens just want to express themselves.

Private Schools Versus Teen Bloggers
You Gotta Fight… For Your Right… To MYSPACE

The very exclusive Washington DC-area Sidwell Friends School has imposed a requirement on its students: they cannot sign up for using their school email address. Since Facebook requires a .edu address as part of the joining process, a lot of teens used to getting what they want aren’t getting it now, the Washington Post reported.

Another dire account of students running afoul of school masters through blogging noted how a student at Barrie School in Silver Spring was asked to leave the private school over misuse of a blog. The Post was unable to obtain specifics about the student’s dismissal, but the school’s head Tim Trautman cited a policy that bans students from using any technology to defame anyone, anywhere.

Much of the Post’s story detailed the dangers of being too open and inviting to potential predators, not to mention the possible use of Facebook material by college admissions personnel or even future employers to make character judgments about people based on their posts.

Teens oppose these restrictions, citing the benefits of getting attention from classmates when one isn’t the among the most popular or outgoing in a school. One teen who works with illustrated the point very well in the article:

“I’m in seventh grade,” the girl said. “It’s really hard to be in seventh grade these days. It’s really hard if you’re shy and you’re not a cheerleader or extraordinarily popular. I travel, I take pictures, I write poetry. I’m a nice kid, and if I can write a profile that will make people notice me, why shouldn’t I?”

Despite their protestations, private schools have the advantage over teens here. The Electronic Frontier Foundation noted in its FAQ on student blogging that private school students have legal protection from government censorship.

As for censorship or out-of-school requirements, students may not have a choice but to follow them, the EFF noted in a section about private school students:

As a general matter, you will receive no protection from censorship or punishment by a private school or college. See e.g. Ubriaco v. Albertus Magnus High School, No. 99 Civ. 11135 (JSM) (S.D.N.Y. July 21, 2000) (dismissing claim contesting private school expulsion for content on personal web site). However, as discussed below, some states provide private high school and college students with additional speech protections that go above and beyond the First Amendment. Furthermore, if your private school has an applicable written policy, the school must follow that policy.

Also keep in mind that even though your private school may have the right to enforce a stupid rule, that doesn’t make it any less stupid. So, if your private school is going overboard in trying to squelch online speech, contact EFF. Depending on the facts, we may be able to help you publicize the problem and hopefully convince your school to be more reasonable.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.