Schools may not have recourse over social media posts

Posted 2/18/21

When some disturbing and inappropriate social media posts involving two or more Powell area youth appeared on social networks, some who saw the video clips asked what the school district was doing …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Schools may not have recourse over social media posts

Posted

When some disturbing and inappropriate social media posts involving two or more Powell area youth appeared on social networks, some who saw the video clips asked what the school district was doing about the behaviors on display. Those behaviors included swearing, disrespecting the American flag and racial slurs. 

While privacy standards restricted Park County School District 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis from discussing the specific incidents which occurred Feb. 9, he could speak in general about what the schools can and cannot do to curb this kind of behavior.

There are both district rules and federal laws that apply to social media and whether it is protected as free speech.

“In these instances, the clips were made outside school hours in private chat settings and then shared outside those chats,” Curtis said Tuesday. “Students have First Amendment rights [to free speech] that we can restrict during school hours to limit distractions. However, unless it is something that started or was posted during the school day or it spills over into a school day, our ability to discipline is limited.”

He gave the example of a social media post that included two students who made comments about a third student and the next day at school there was a fight over the matter. Also, if inappropriate posts were made at school, it could open up the students involved for discipline from the school district.

“But if they are made outside school, we can’t discipline them,” he said.

Curtis did point out that many hours are spent, especially during the middle school years, advising students about what they include in their online life and being aware of what their digital footprint looks like.

“It’s also an unfortunate fact that it is all too easy once they get older to allow them free rein on social media. But the schools can’t do this alone,” he added. “What we can do is use this as a teachable moment on the social consequences that go along with free speech, that there are consequences to what we do and say.”

Curtis also noted that coaches have broader authority to discipline their players over actions they take outside school hours, because playing sports is a privilege, not a right. He gave as an example of a coach who becomes aware of an underage student athlete drinking alcohol at a party. That coach could then bench the player or even dismiss them from the team.  

Comments