teapotdome (teapotdome) wrote in headroyce,

Frequently Asked Questions about LJgate

Part One: Yes, Teachers Read Your LJ

A. Calm down. That isn't even a question.

Q. Sorry. So are teachers reading our LJs?
A. The short answer is yes. Mr. Chen regularly hassles people about things they've posted, and it's long been suspected--though never actually proven--that Enelow reads them too, probably cackling and correcting transition signals all the while.

Q. But... isn't that an invasion of privacy?
A. Oh, come on. You're posting it on the internet! If you actually want to keep something private, the internet is probably the worst possible place to put it. If teachers were breaking into your house and reading your diary, that would be something else altogether (as far as I know, Mr. Reinke has only done this once, so don't worry about it). But everyone's allowed to read it; there may be an 'unspoken rule' that teachers shouldn't snoop into students' lives, but I can think of exactly zero times when this rule has been followed. Especially the humanities teachers, for some reason they're all nosy sons'a bitches. As has been mentioned before, if you're that worried about it, delete any sensitive entries or make them friends-only.

Part Two: Yes, They Made Some Kid Delete His LJ

Q. They did?
A. Yup. It's common knowledge by now, but for completeness I will put it here: on or around February 2, a freshman (who I won't name here, you can find out if you really want to know) deleted his LJ, on pain of immediate expulsion. The offending posts contained 'hateful' (the Administration's word, not mine) language about the school and people there, and therefore was deemed unacceptable.

Q. You're joking.
A. I wish I was.

Q. But... but... freedom of speech!
A. Be very careful here. It's one thing to say 'OMG FREE SPEACH'; it's another to realize how the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment works, and whether it actually applies. Let's look first at some cases when things like this have happened at other schools, and how courts have ruled on them.

The landmark case usually cited in this kind of disagreement is Tinker v. Des Moines. Way back in the sixties, a bunch of students wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War, and got suspended for their efforts. In that case, the Supreme Court decided that student free speech was okay as long as it wasn't causing 'material and substantial interference' with school, and that 'in the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views'.

In Beussink v. Woodland R-IV School District, a student at a public school was suspended for ten days for criticizing a teacher on his personal web page. The court ruled that the school violated the student's First Amendment rights. Money quote: 'Disliking or being upset by the content of a student's speech is not an acceptable justification for limiting student speech'.

In Mahaffey v. Aldrich (scroll down a bit), a student at a public school posted 'hateful' material on his website, including a list of (gasp!) 'people I wish would die', and was summarily suspended. Again, the court ruled in favor of the student's right to freedom of speech.

Q. But wait! These are all public schools! And all the teachers are saying that since this is a private school, we don't have any right to free speech!
A. Not a question, but I'll let it slide. You're right; in private schools, a contract between the school and the parents (the thing you signed when they gave you the directory) dictates what rules students must follow, without any consideration of the First Amendment.

Q. So are we screwed?
A. No. In any other state, we would be. However, in the good ol' state of California, we have something called the Leonard Law (Calif. Educational Code Section 48950), which reads, in part:

School districts operating one or more high schools and private secondary schools shall not make or enforce any rule subjecting any high school pupil to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of conduct that is speech or other communication that, when engaged in outside of the campus, is protected from governmental restriction by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution...

What this boils down to is this: students in private schools in California enjoy the same First Amendment rights as anybody else does. As long as speech meets the Tinker standard (of not substantially interfering with the operation of the school), students in California private schools have the right to free speech.

Q. So expelling anyone for something on an LJ would be unconstitutional, wouldn't it?
A. Yes. Yes it would.
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