Thursday, February 25, 2010

Facebook Can Get You Suspended?

Last week, Chicago honors student Justin Bird was suspended from school for creating a Facebook group called "I hate Big Daddy V." Turns out one of his teachers is Mr. Valiscus, and the group is devoted to griping about him. Within days of creating the Facebook group, 50 pf his classmates had joined.

The school administration was not amused.

This isn't the first time a student has been suspended for Facebook activity. Earlier this month, a federal magistrate ruled that now-college-sophomore Katharine Evans' lawsuit against her Florida school district could go forward. She is suing to have her suspension expunged because she alleges that the school district violated her First Amendment rights.

What did she do wrong to get suspended for three days? School officials said her Facebook page devoted to trashing a teacher constituted "cyberbullying."

The ACLU applauded the decision, saying it clearly extended First Amendment rights to online writings of a non-threatening manner. “This is an important victory both for Ms. Evans and Internet free speech,” Maria Kayanan (associate legal director of the ACLU of Florida) said, “because it upholds the principle that the right to freedom of speech and expression in America does not depend on the technology used to convey opinions and ideas.”

So what do you think? Should these students have been suspended for creating these Facebook pages on their own time, outside of school? Is this a violation of their First Amendment rights? If the latter, should a teacher then be allowed to create a similar page to gripe about her students?



  1. How is it the school's business what kids do in their spare time? If they were harassing their teacher directly, sending e-mails and the like, I could maybe see some disciplinary action being taken. But it's now not okay to complain about a teacher to your friends? Come on.

    This is all pretty freaking ridiculous if you ask me.

  2. It does seem like a free speech thing to me. Having said that, I wish they'd focus on cyber bullying more. Too many kids are getting harassed.

  3. I agree that the schools are making more out of it than necessary if the speech is not violent. It's just the cyber equivalent of notes passed around the hallways.

    However, I think it's interesting that if the shoe was on the other foot (a teacher sponsored page that ragged on students) the teacher would almost certainly be fired for inappropriate behavior.

    If it's inappropriate behavior for a teacher, I think the schools should have the right to censure students who go too far.

  4. Unfortunately we live in an age when kids bring guns to school and a site like this that promotes hatred of another individual fuels violence.

    But the whole free speech amendment is pretty cut and dry. I agree with Fox, if a teacher did that, they would be in serious trouble.

  5. I think it was a slight overreaction to the developing potential of a very real problem. How far does your right to swing your verbal, virtual fist extend? How many more posts had to be made before it became a situation in which the teacher felt threatened?

    While cutting it off early sounds very Big Brother, what was the potential damage of letting it go until it was too far? In either case, the school can't win. Too much intervention and they're stifling 1st Amendment rights. Too little and they're creating an atmosphere of bullying.

    Also, what if the target of this site had been another student, rather than a teacher? Is it ok to let over 50 people get together to discuss how much they despise a fellow student?

    In any case, it's past time people learned that FB and the like are NOT the same as a couple of kids talking over the phone or sitting in someone's living room. It's public and what you say is out there forever.

    A couple of days suspension is a small price to pay for finally figuring out that the pen is mightier than the sword, but, like the sword, it cuts both ways.

  6. I agree with Sela. There is a fine line out there where free speech online and violence intersect. If the student was not disciplined and something happened to the teacher, the teacher's family would have wondered why school officials didn't stop it. At the same time, protection of First Amendment rights doesn't begin when you reach age 18. I think what needs to be taught is responsibility in expressing and enjoying the rights of free speech we take for granted. That might have been of more benefit than a suspension. Show the students cases where something that didn't seem like a big deal online spiraled out of control to horrible consequences.

  7. Anonymous9:22 AM

    I find myself in the rare position of agreeing with the ACLU. So long as the students are only expressing opinions, be they valid or not, they have the right to do so. I think the line is crossed if they make overt threats or make totally unfounded accusations. Had they said "Big Daddy V is a pedophile", that, IMO, would not be covered as free speech. The same goes for if they had made outright threats, i.e. "We're gonna cap Big Daddy V" or something to that effect. To me, it's the same as disagreeing with a politician. I can talk about Senator X or Congressman Y all day long, provided I don't threaten or publish outright falsehoods (as noted above). To me, both schools were, at least on the surface, in the wrong.
    (Note- since I don't have any of the listed accounts, I have to go with Anonymous, but this is Michael)

  8. Anonymous9:35 AM

    I think that students do need to be responsible for what their saying if they are doing threatening or spreadng rumors or inciting violence, something to that effect. I also agree that should the pages be turned and the teacher had opened a page to dissing the student, he would be in serious trouble. It's so sad in this age that people feel the need to harass others and do so publicly.Okay,so they don't like their teachers, keep it among friends, don't post for the whole world to see. As Kristen pointed out, there's a lot of damage that's beig done to our children from hateful posts. I hope more is done to end this type of behavior.

  9. The ironic thing is that very often kids who feel safe enough to goof off and misbehave in school are model kids at home. And kids who aren't engaged enough to bother with misbehaving in school are the troubled ones at home.

    Unless something happens OUT of school that involves a school event the school needs to stay out of it. I was a teacher. If 1/3 of the energy devoted to sticking noses into what is none of their business went to actually educating students we'd lead the world.

    And clearly, as evidenced by the death of Pheobe Prince, nobody is paying attention when it counts anyway.

  10. unless they are threatening harm to a teacher, then the school has no business interfering and certainly shouldn't be punishing the student for what she does off campus. Would they suspend her if she were sitting at Starbucks with her friends saying the same things? No.

    The student showed poor judgment in creating the page, but that's for her and her parents to deal with. If the teacher wasn't threatened then the school should've let it go.

  11. a teacher who bashed students online would be fired because A: that's unprofessional B: they're adults and should act like it

    Students and teachers aren't held to the same standards. And it's plenty fair because students are kids and are immature and do stupid things. And sometimes it gets out of hand and they have to learn the hard way. But teachers are adults, and you bet you're sweet bippy they should be held to a higher standard. They are the examples kids look to.

    I had a VERY similar situation happen to me my freshman year. I called into the radio station and complained about my teacher. Never named her, never named myself but by the time I got to school EVERYONE knew about it. Even the teacher. She then began to threaten to sue me for defamation, she tried to fail me, tried to accuse me of cheating...Now what I did was stupid, yes. BUT she was the adult in that situation and she should've acted like one. Her attempts at retribution got her fired.

    And the school was upset about the situation, but they couldn't do anything about it because I was at home when I made the call and didn't name anyone...not even the school. So I was threatened with detention but my mom told them very clearly they couldn't punish me for off campus activity.

    Mom, however, could punish me. And she did. :D

  12. So being young and stupid gets you more protection under the law than being someone who does their job? I can see where the letter of the law is being upheld, but the sense and spirit are sadly lacking.

  13. Which I just realized is going to come off like I'm calling Mel stupid, and I totally wasn't. I just think that a teenager can get away with pulling together a group of kids -- not in order to change things for the better, but just to 'mitch and boan' -- and the employer under whose banner they're all joined can do nothing to protect their employee and are, in fact, vilified for enacting consequences for thoughtless, painful behaviour.

  14. the punishment for a kid who jacks a car and takes it joyriding is going to be different from an adult who does the same thing. Both kids and adults often make terrible errors in judgment but the consequences for the actions will be different for the two.

    And if a teacher, who performed his job but started a facebook page to bitch and moan about his students would not be the type of role model I would want for my kids and I would expect there to be strong consequences for such actions. They are held to a higher standard. Period.

    If my kid started a FB page about a teacher, you bet I would handle it in the house because that's appropriate. Unless threats were involved, it wasn't appropriate for the school to get involved.

  15. PS Sela, I never thought you called me stupid. :D

  16. Interesting.

    I actually agree with the ACLU on this one (which is odd). Actually, I believe that the 1st amendment guarantees the rights for students to trash-talk teachers AND teachers to trash-talk students. Gracious knows I've heard enough stories of teachers who totally destroyed their student's self-esteem with trash-talking, and they're rarely suspended over it.

    HOWEVER, school policy is another matter. The School has the right to put anything in their contracts with their teachers as to what they can and cannot do. And, I think, they might also have the right to say that any child attending the school must agree to abide by rules as well. Do they have clear school policy stating that cyber bullying is not allowed? And do they expel the students who verbal-bully off school campus? Somehow I doubt it. Otherwise school stories would not be filled with stories of kids who get beat up coming home, and kids who have cruel pranks played on them for years on end. If the school isn't going to suspend or expel all those kids for that, then they can't do it for facebook stuff either.

    I don't know why some people act as though cyber bullying is something new, when everyone knows that there have been school bullies since the dawn of time. The Internet's only a new medium for an old behavior. Let's call it like it is and treat ALL bullying the same way.

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  18. Mel's story illustrates my point. The first amendment guaranteed Mel's right to complain on the radio. Her mother did NOT offer that same guarantee.

    Our first amendment rights are guaranteed by the constitution. But there is nothing saying that we can't end up under other, more strict sets of rules. Someone standing before judge cannot mouth off at the judge and expect to get away with it because they're exercising their first amendment rights. Those in the military are fully aware of the fact that they agree to give up their first amendment rights in regards to their superiors. Most of us know that we agree to give it up when we get a least, as long as we want to keep the job!

    So the question is not whether the school violated her first amendment rights. The question is whether the stepped outside of THEIR OWN rights.

  19. I think another complication is that, even if the Facebook site was started by the student off school grounds, it was probably being accessed by other students while at school...and possibly in that teacher's class. (Depending on the rules about phones and such.) Which, for me, makes it hard to think of an exact pre-internet parallel...

  20. I really go back and forth about this. I was a teacher last year. And one of the other teachers I worked with was HORRIBLE. I mean all she did was scream at kids, she barely knew her subject matter (and she was well over 50, had been teaching for a LONG time) and all of the kids hated her. Rightly so, in my opinion, because I saw first hand what she was like. A student in one of her classes, caught her in one particular rage on her cell phone video and then uploaded it to youtube. She got in a TON of trouble. I don't know if any of it had to do with posting a video of someone she didn't have permission to do? But I felt bad for her--she needed a place to vent her frustrations. I don't know if youtube was the right place, but sometimes these kids have nowhere else to go.

    PS could I use anymore CAPITALIZED words in a paragraph? ;)

  21. Wow, I can see both sides of the situation. Not a clear-cut case to me.

  22. Anonymous1:41 PM

    look all you little pricks who think they should get suspended listen to this if im in middle school and my teacher says something mean to me out of blatent malice does she get in trouble only if i go whine to someone about it and with most kids thier prides to high so if i go home hop on the computer and say i despise ms. so and so i could get suspended to you ppl who think thats unfair thats whats happening to these kids

  23. Anonymous3:44 PM

    i put this exact statement on facebook: Man i was P****D today, punched a locker, i HATE mrs. R____s and i HATE Mr. C____Y and they cann kiss my white A*S i'm getting my phone back tomorrow so haha suck that mrs. R____S and i'm still on the cheerleading team Mr. C____Y so haha suck that!!!"(i couldn't put the names of the teachers or the cuss words but that's that it said without the lines and stars) i got suspended for posting that, but i didn't use any threats or racial slurs or bulllying, so i shouln't have got suspended for that, right? please leave a comment and let me know.
    (my name is Kayla Crumpton)