Students' online free speech
would be protected
by Connecticut bill
January 30, 11:58 AM
by J.D. Tuccille
Civil Liberties Examiner
Across the country, students in public high schools have discovered, to their dismay, that the First Amendment that's supposed to restrict government action apparently doesn't protect comments they make on the Internet while at home from punishment by school officials. Suspended, detained, or otherwise punished, students say their right to free speech beyond school officials' jurisdiction is being violated. A Connecticut legislator agrees and wants to ensure that students' right to speak their minds online is protected.
Avery Doninger, a high school student in Burlington, Connecticut, was barred from serving on the student council after referring to school administrators as "douchebags" on her personal blog. Robert Afnani, of Langley High School, in Virginia, was told to shut down his home-based proxy server or face suspension (public pressure forced school officials to back off). Justin Layshock, a Pennsylvania high school student, was suspended and transferred to an alternative education program for parodying a school official on Myspace. Wesley Juhl, a Nevada high school student, was suspended for making blog comments about a classmate and a teacher from his home computer. At least one school district, Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 in northern Illinois, has formally adopted a policy threatening students with consequences for material they post on the Internet during their own time.
Punishment of students for material they post online on their own time, off school grounds, is so common that the Electronic Frontier Foundation maintains a section of its Website devoted to the problem. The Student Press Law Center has also addressed the issue.
J.D. Tuccille, a graduate of Greenwich High School and Clark University, writes from Arizona about civil liberties including free speech, privacy, drug prohibition and the right to bear arms.