USA Today had an interesting editorial last week about students posting on social networking sites disparaging teachers and administrators – sometimes in crude and sexually degrading ways. The schools argue such postings disrupt the educational environment, while students argue they are protected under the First Amendment.
First, I am extremely reluctant to allow any restrictions on free speech by government schools, because it sets a dangerous precedent. (Private schools are another matter and should be free to discipline as they see fit.) Once the precedent is established that a government school can punish a student for what he says off-campus on his own computer, the school can use that precedent to clamp down on other speech the school finds “disruptive.” Restricting bullying and harassment on school grounds is one thing. Censorship of speech off campus is something else.
Here in Monroe County, the school system has a reputation for censoring speech that the administration finds “offensive” or disagrees with the school’s dogma. When two students protested the “National Day of Silence” in 2005, the school censored them. The school claimed that that the speech was “disruptive” – as if students refusing to speak at all for an entire day was not disruptive. (For more, see here, here, here and here.) Is it really all that difficult to believe MCCSC would censor “homophobic” speech posted on the Internet if they had the chance?
The answer should be obvious. Parents need to discipline their children if they are posting crude and degrading remarks about teachers and administrators (or fellow students) online. A well-disciplined teenager will not be posting crude and degrading remarks in the first place, but it is never too late to “train up a child in the way he should go.” (Proverbs 22:6) While government schools must be very limited in what they can do regarding off-campus speech, parents should teach their children to respect the authority of the school and the people who hold that authority. (See Romans 13:1-4)