School Districts, Parents Face Tough Decisions on MySpace, Technology
> 3/3/2006 10:38:43 AM

A new case in California is presenting parents and administrators at a public school with tough decisions regarding the use of technology and threats of violence. This new situation centers around a MySpace group created by one user and joined by 20 other students. On the popular social networking site, users are able to create groups around any topic and then invite others to join. In many cases this practice helps cement loyalty to a band or sports team. In this case, the student in question created a group that espoused violent hatred of a female classmate.

The name of the group caused the initial stir: "I hate (girl's name)," the group name also included an expletive and an anti-Semitic reference. However, the contents of the group page have disturbed the parents and teachers involved even further. The AP reports:
A later message to group members directed them to a nondescript folder, which included a posting that allegedly asked: "Who here in the (group name) wants to take a shotgun and blast her in the head over a thousand times?"

The students have been suspended since mid-February, and the district is seeking the expulsion of the student responsible for forming the group. Moreover, police are investigating the boys actions as a hate crime. As we have mentioned earlier in this space, technologies like MySpace, Instant Messenger and even email have changed the way that we interact, and in so doing have morphed the rules of engagement for adolescents and teens. Bully has taken to the web, and intimidation can now come in any number of shapes and electronic sizes. Threats that may have at one time been relegated to personal diaries and conversations with friends are now trumpeted across the net, as in this case from Rhode Island.

The key issue in this particular instance, according to parents, is that the students did nothing wrong on school grounds, and therefore the district has no jurisdiction to suspend or expel them. The counter argument made by the school district is that the MySpace site directly threatened the safety of a student and therefore required swift action, i.e. removal of the offending students. In some earlier cases, like this one, the ACLU has defended suspended students, claiming their first amendment rights protected them from disciplinary action. However, in the case of the Littleton, CO, student the comments made were much more innocuous, mocking his school and mentioning no students by name. Under the threat of a federal lawsuit, the district reinstated the student after serving less than half of his suspension.

Chances are, the California middle school student, who authorities will thankfully not mention by name due to his age, will not be reinstated. The threat of violence, and the graphic nature of the threats made to a specific target take this case above and beyond the more questionable calls that districts have had to make in the past. These new technologies are presenting administrators with new challenges every week. School districts must respond with very specific guidelines about what they expect from students both while they are in school and while they are at home. The debate will most likely hinge on whether the internet, as some folks in Littleton argued, can be considered part of the overall learning environment, and therefore when students post harassing, mocking or even threatening things online they are in fact disturbing that learning atmosphere. There will not be any easy answers, and districts will be forced to be flexible and learn along with parents. Discussing these issues with students may help create a more open dialogue and educate decision makers about some of the attitudes and behaviors that they need to understand.


The 20 weren't "suspended since mid-February" --they served two-day suspensions. It's hard to tell from the news reports, but one aspect of the two-day suspension was for failing to report the threats to the targetted student."Twenty other students who viewed the boy's site and whose pictures were posted as members of the boy's group of friends have completed two-day suspensions, Metz said. The students were punished as district officials investigated a threat to campus security, Metz said; none of the students had reported the threat, he said."--LA Times article today Schools are a bit behind the change curve here in promulgating student standards of behavior, and consequences of breaking those standards.There are a bunch of different issues about students' behavior online:1. Bullying 2. Hate-crime behavior 3. Threats of violence4. Students' evident violation of schools' behavior codes (ie, photos of drinking)5. Schools having the right to block access to certain sites from school-owned computers (including LiveJournal, MySpace, and whatever springs up to follow-on from MySpace)6. Schools having the right to block access using *school internet servers*, even if the computers using the servers are student-owned.7. Students' free-speech rights--students do have the right to criticize their schools, even in new media. The Electronic Freedom Foundation has good resources on this last post.Parents and school districts are trailing their kids. But it isn't that complicated, really: the standard can be easily addressed. As in, what you say online should be something you would say in public, in person, to the people you are writing about.
Posted by: liz 3/3/2006 3:48:04 AM

I think that it all depends on who is using MySpace weather or not it is a bad thing or a good thing. Irresponsible people can get hurt, if you are careful, it should not matter!
Posted by: Dakota 3/14/2006 12:26:14 PM

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