Lack of Legal Precedent Poses Major Problem for Schools

May 22, 2006

School administrators are increasingly asked what kind of cyberspeech causes campus disruption. As more students -- from elementary school to college -- network online, more are being punished for their postings.

Last month, five Etiwanda High School students were suspended for creating an "unharmonious school atmosphere'' after posting vulgar language in criticizing a teacher.

Traditionally, schools do not interfere with behavior at home, but local school officials say they will act if activity from home computers causes school disruption.

Greg Lukianoff, president of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said he has seen an upswing in free speech cases involving networking sites such as Myspace.com.

"I've seen a very pronounced jump in the last six months,'' said Lukianoff. "There's also been an upswing in the number of seminars for administrators terrified over the forum that Myspace presents.''

Lukianoff, who heads the foundation that defends rights in higher education, said some cases border on the silly.

Last month, the foundation helped a University of Central Florida student win a case after being charged with harassment. The student had called a student government candidate a "jerk and a fool'' on the social networking site Facebook.com...

Schools: University of Central Florida Cases: University of Central Florida: Censorship of Internet Speech