Computer Versus Students Freedom Of Expression

Computer Versus Students Freedom Of Expression

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Computer Usage and Students Freedom of Expression

School administrators are worried about cyberspace usage especially when they visually see on the computer hit lists, bomb threats, character assassinations and defamations. Some school officials have took matters in their own hands by suspending, expelling or even banning students from use of computers. Do school administrators have the right to forbid free expression when the online communication posts are created from a home PC and not school regulated computer equipment?
Social-networking websites (MySpace, Facebook, Xanga and Friendster) are extremely popular for instance, "more than 90 million people of all ages are registered users of MySpace – good portion of them teenagers. Now granted, majority of online communications is of clean material of favorite things and dislikes but occasionally there will be damaging statements about teachers or a list of classmates to which they want to hurt. Example, five students in Kansas were arrested in April 2006 for a plot to engage in a murderous spree on the seven-years anniversary of the infamous Columbine shootings.
The United States House of Representatives passed The Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 which consists of public schools and libraries to block student access to commercial social-networking sites such as MySpace.com Some individuals do not favor this bill because it unfairly blocs learning applications and websites necessary for the students to learn and communicate. In addition, there is already an act that blocks content that is harmful to minors it is The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
Students have freely expressed a variety of viewpoints, including criticism of school officials, on the Internet. The First Amendment protects critical speech posted on various forms of media for example computers and the Internet. Unfortunately, public school students do not have the same level of free-expression rights as adults in a general setting. There was a court decision in Reno v ACLU that claimed limiting indecent speech on the Internet unconstitutionally free-speech rights of adults.
Three famous court cases cover such issues regarding students' First Amendment rights and are the basis of students' free expression.
1. 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Comm. Sch. (political protest) – ruled school officials could not silence student expressions
2. 1986 Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser (speech with sexual references) – ruled school education to prohibit vulgar and offensive terms
3. 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kehlmeier (newspaper article – teen pregnancy) – ruled in favor school officials to remove newspaper article.

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Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court has not revisited this area over fifteen years and with the growth of Internet communication, these three court cases are obsolete.
Now were the real problem lies is if the students Internet expression is characterized as being on-campus or off-campus. There is an argument that school officials do not have jurisdiction over student's speech when it is conducted off-campus. The first court decision involving student Internet speech was Beussink v. Woodland R-IV School District. The student Brandon Beussink was suspended for ten days because the principal did not like what was on his home page, which was created on his home computer. The home page consisted of vulgar language to defecate the school administration and the school. The judge agreed, finding that the principal committed legal error in punishing Beussink simple because he disliked the content of the page.
Can school officials punish students when they "cyber bully" other students? Unfortunately, there has not been any case laws regarding this issue. Cyber bullying has been a part of student suicide and some incidences of school violence. You have the right to express your thoughts freely, until your expression of thoughts is or has the potential of causing substantial harm.
Within this article, there were several recommendations such as:
1. School officials should not punish student online expression simply because they do not like it.
2. Educators would open lines of dialogue with students and their parents.
3. Educate students that their online material can come back to haunt them.
4. Internet-use policies should be written in a way that clearly defines prohibited conduct.
5. School should not adopt a one-size-fits-all response to student expression on the Internet.
I truly feel school officials are taking matters into their own hands and possibly over exaggerating. In my opinion, schools should not punish students for off-campus behavior. It is the right of the parents to punish their children.
The second article I would briefly like to cover is a nationwide survey conducted on social-networking groups and the First Amendment. I located this article by searching by keyword "Internet". More then 50% of Americans believe the government should not restrict or regulate free speech on the Internet. Only 4% of respondents said they had "been the victims of an untrue/or offensive comment." Nearly 59% of respondents had heard of Facebook or MySpace. Of the 58.5% who were aware of these sites, 22.7% said someone in their household participates in social-networking groups. The survey posed questions such as, "Does the First Amendment give Americans the right to say anything they want to about anyone at any time on the Internet?" 54.5% said the First Amendment does not afford this right, with 32.6% saying it does. The other question is, "Do you think public school officials ought to have the authority to punish students who post untrue and/or offensive materials about the school on social networking site, even if they use their computers at home?" 48.3% of respondents want to give public school officials that authority.
My closing comment is as more people use social-networking sites, the potential for legal problems associated with speech on the Internet continues to grow. The courts need to draw new lines as to what is acceptable and non-acceptable behavior/communication – sooner then later.
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