Monday, March 10, 2008

Free Press Case in Connecticut

A major Connecticut free speech case related to Internet usage has gone to a U.S. Supreme Court Appeals Circuit Court. The question at issue is the school’s responsibility to trespass into students' Internet usage off school grounds but related to the school setting.

As you probaly already know, a student from Burlington, Connecticut’s Lewis Mills High School, Avery Doninger, a senior, posted negative comments about school administrators on her personal blog ( weblog). The school’s principal, henceforth, barred Doninger from serving on the school’s student council, wherein she was elected secretary, and from speaking at her upcoming graduation ceremony. Doninger herself gave testimony at a US Supreme Court hearing. (Talk about a real-life education experiences in social studies and public rhetoric!)

The case centers on First Amendment rights as well as a public school's right to control student expression off school grounds. In this case, the posting on the Internet was from the student's personal account and done on her own computer. Although Doninger used her personal computer, because the comments were made public and derogotray of school administrators, they believed they had the right to impose school-based sanctions.

In such a case, do you believe the school system has a right to impose penalties? Furthermore, as students increasingly use the Internet as a public forum, what rights should schools have regarding any information students posts about their own schools? Do you think school administrators should be able to seek retribution through punitive measures when students post comments off school grounds using their own computer?

To read more about the Burlington case and similar situations, check this March 5, 2008 Hartford Courant front page article.
Court Looks at Internet Limits,0,3846137.story

source: "Court Looks At Internet Limits" By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER Courant Staff Writer March 5, 2008 NEW YORK — photo of school


Sherri said...

Let me first begin by stating I am proponent of free speech. I am also an advocate for effective speech. Student government is an exercise in politics. A student leader's role is to represent the student body. Did Doninger communicate the sentiment of her constituents. Probably, yes. Did the school officials like the way she communicated-no. We all know that politics can be a dirty game. So, the real question can school officials decide how the game is played? I think the answer is no.

Doninger, in my opinion, has the right to her free speech, but certainly did not use it effectively. Should the administrators be able to impose penalties? No, that opens the door censorship. Come on administrators, what happen to stick and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me. Doninger is teenager first and alot of other things before she is politician. The time and energy spent in court should be dedicated to teaching students how to communicate effectively.

Aaron said...

I am torn on this issue. I don't think school is a microcosm of society in that everything translates. We as teachers are here to help develop well rounded, contributing citizens. I think part of that mission is teach them how to appropriately express their opinions and feelings. When they don't do this with their peers, we are expected to step in. How is it different in this situation. Yes, she has a right to her free speech, but she also has a "right" to suffer the consequences of said speech. Saying what she said at a friends house is one thing. Putting it in print is another. I feel there should be some consequence for her actions. Would it be acceptable to say what she wrote in her blog directly to the administators face? No. Then why is putting it in print acceptable. And by acceptable, I mean without consequence. It had to be addressed. I understand what Sherri is saying about sticks and stones, and that politics is a dirty game, but isn't it our responsibility to improve on the status quo?

Debbie said...

I have done a lot of research on students' rights in regard to religious speech and freedom of expression in schools. In almost all cases, exclusive of when speech/expression was on school grounds and of a derogatory nature, the supreme court ruled in favor of students' rights. The frusturating thing about public expression on the internet is that is it so different than when people are face-to-face. Students need a whole new lesson in social skills ONLINE. In the case of this student, posting comments on a personal webpage from a personal computer, I believe the school has no right to penalize her. If she was overheard saying something about the principal in a Starbucks, would she have received the same punishment at school? What if teachers were held accountable for the way they talk about students?! It will be interesting to see what the court rules, as this case begins a much needed conversation about what is appropriate and inappropriate sharing online.

Alicia H said...

As a future social studies teacher and current lover of history and how our government was created, is set up and runs, this case is immensly interesting to me! And it is one town away from me so it really hits home.
Yesturday at work I had a senior from Lewis Mills H.S. and her boyfriend, a graduate from last year, at one of my tables. I asked her about this and she stated she believed it was still going on and wasn't sure what her view was on this. She was suprised and "stoked" when I told her that we discussed this in the fall in my content area class.
As for my viewpioint, I believe the school is stepping over their boundary of power. We have the Freedom of Speech as citizens of this country, and although Ms. Doninger's comments were not positive, she should not be punished by the school adminisratios for this. If a student publishes a newspaper off-campus on their own time and paper, and it finds its way into school, that student can not be punished because it originated outside of school property. (Stephen King was such a self-newspaper publisher when he was young) This case is the same thing, but via the internet.
I appreciate what Aaron and Sherri say, believe me.
I just can't get past the fact that the school administartion has reacted like this; it is a breakdown of rights and the school is extending itself too far, and into territory it should not be in. If this were my child I imagine I would do the same thing as the Doninger's and take the school to court. What an amazing experience for this young woman; testifying in front of the Supreme Court. This is democracy in action-she is standing up for her right.

mary beth said...

This issue is very interesting. Could this be a case of libel or slander? If so, would it be appropriate for the student to suffer consequences for that reason? Would the administrators have the right to sue on those grounds? Maybe the student would still be class secretary but she may have to pay the consequences in some other way. It also seemed to me that the 1969 ruling allows for some kind of disciplinary action by the school; "schools can prohibit expression only if they can show that not doing so would interfere with schoolwork or discipline." The lawyers for the administators may be able to argue that the student's derogatory public comments, combined with her leadership position at school, would adversely impact the administrators ability to maintain discipline within the school. But could that be true? Are the administrators so intimidated by this girl and her power over the student body that they fear they will lose control of the students? Maybe they do fear her, and their ability to maintain discipline over the student body, and maybe that is why they took her so seriously. If so, this is a sad commentary on the respect for authority of adults these days. If not, maybe these administrators were just angry at this girl and wanted revenge for what she said about them. If so, they should have known better. Sometimes with teens we adults have to pick our battles and maybe these administrator/adults should have let this one go...

Sharon Kirby said...

I am taking a Law course right now with SJC. As a class we have looked at this case. The professor stated that the school will need to show that the comments that were stated by the student prohibited the administration from proficiently completing their educational duties, and then the courts will uphold the school for its action. The Internet really is so new and it has become such a new grey area for the laws that have been in place since Ferguson v. the Board of Ed. We have been covering many new cases and it will all depend of the justices and how the information is presented to the court. I am interested in seeing where this case will end up.

Blog Archive