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Can Schools Regulate Students' Facebook Activity?

Students should consider their privacy settings before posting statuses or photos of themselves or others online.

Growing up in the Digital Age has its benefits. Airplanes give way to culture and experience, Ipods provide entertainment for long car rides, laptops give me access to a wealth of information without leaving my bed and I can watch TV at the gym. However, with all this new technology comes a myriad of new dilemmas.

With memes targeted at teachers, as well as the aftermath of countless drunken party nights littering Facebook’s Sunday morning newsfeed, students should consider their privacy settings before posting statuses or photos of themselves or others online.

“There are great things about technology, but this is not one of them,” said Principal Bonnie Hansen. “People are getting hurt, and people are being hurtful even when they don't mean to be.”

The meme page was sent to administration soon after it was launched, as was Woodside’s meme page, which Hansen admits was funnier.

“What’s important for students to understand is that anything a student types, they have to be comfortable with. Because in our day and age, anything you post is public,” said Hansen.

It’s evident from the prevalence of raunchy photos that appear regularly on Facebook that many students are unaware of the security laws regarding social networking sites and their effect on students.

Because our generation is the first to begin using these social networking sites as a way of communication, photo sharing, and overall everyday life, for many students, the lines are still blurred concerning the legality of what you can and cannot do on Facebook.

“We’ll be a lot better at this in the next five years,” said Hansen. “The California Education Code around it is very new so we're all trying to figure out how to deal with this kind of communication.”

Many cases have erupted in recent months where students have been punished for what they have posted on Facebook; some schools going so far as expulsion.

A student in Indiana, just months away from graduation, was recently expelled from Garrett High School for tweeting the F-word multiple times. Furthermore, other schools across the country have been asking students to shut down their Facebook accounts and even being fined money for posting scandalous photos.

This begs the question of to what extents can a student be punished for what he or she does outside of school grounds.

How much authority does a school have in the virtual world of the internet? And how much should it have?

“I can’t imagine how awful my life would be if I had to read all the tweets students send out,” said Administrative Vice Principal Sean Priest. “All we can do here is operate under the California Education Code.”

There is a section of this code, however, that deals with rule enforcement and more specifically rule enforcement on the internet. Code 48900 states that a student can be suspended or expelled if he or she fails to adhere to the enforcements in this code including bullying, cyberbullying, or using drugs or alcohol at a school event such as prom or the dance show. This area of the code was inducted more recently, as the prevalence of high school interaction has moved online.

Thus said, the term “online” doesn’t always correlate with the term “outside of school grounds.”

“The only way that the school can lawfully enforce a punishment is if there’s a nexus [connection] with the school,” said Priest.

This means that because of the portal to portal rule, anything that a student posts during school, at a school event or on a student’s way to or from school is culpable under the California education code.

“We have a responsibility to students to make sure that the school is safe,” said Priest. “When parents send their students to prom or another school event, they expect them to be safe.  If the evidence is what someone posts online, and that’s what we have to go with, that student will get punished.”

“We’re not monitoring student Facebook pages,” said Priest, “we don’t have the bandwidth for that.”

However, students must keep in mind that Facebook privacy settings can only go so far as to protect the individual.

“Just don't put it in writing,” said Hansen. “Because unfortunately in this day and age with technology what it is, it’s not safe.”

 

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