Speech Dilemna

August 6, 2013

by Jaime Adame

Urban Tulsa Weekly


The student may not have been at school. Even so, his foul-mouthed message could not be ignored, Chris Payne decided.

"We had one instance where the student had been suspended and he Tweeted, 'f*** you, TPS, I'm taking the week off' or something like that," Payne, director of public information for Tulsa Public Schools, wrote in an email.

As part of his job, Payne monitors social networks to tap into discussion about Tulsa Public Schools.

It's a way to gauge community sentiment about school initiatives. This time, he spotted the profanity from a student.

"These things are all a judgment call," Payne said in an interview.

Ultimately, he informed the high school principal at the student's school about the message; Payne said he doesn't know if it led to any further punishment.

These sort of student comments -- public posts on social networking platforms -- can lead to headaches for administrators, though Payne said he's only aware of the one Tweet that called for at least potential district follow up. School administrators at all levels must balance the need to maintain order with a desire to allow free expression, while free speech advocates push against some policies as restrictive without reason...