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May 23, 2006

A Disturbing Policy

As a teacher, I find this case of “mission creep” by one Illinois school board to be a bit disturbing.

Illegal or inappropriate blogging or social behavior over the Internet is now a violation of District 128's student code of conduct at both Libertyville and Vernon Hills High Schools and can lead to denial of extracurricular student privileges.

The board of education of Community High School District 128 approved the revision Monday night without dissent before a packed house of media, parents and students at Vernon Hills High School. It is one of the first such school board policies in Illinois to address some of the risque social mores students frequently encounter when surfing Internet blogs and various Web sites designed to attract children.

Like many other schools, the district requires a certain standard of conduct from students in order to participate in athletics, fine arts or extracurricular activities. Signatures from both a student and parent bind them to honor the Student Code of Conduct. Nearly 80 percent of the district's 3,200 students are involved in one or more of these extracurricular activities.

The newly amended policy approved Monday night consists of a simple sentence. It reads: "Maintaining or being identified on a blog site which depicts illegal or inappropriate behavior will be considered a violation of this code."

Now let’s look at some potential problems here.

“Being identified on” someone’s website is now an offense, based entirely on what the other content is found on the site. Now this is entirely beyond one’s control – and this policy does not make an exception for “being identified on” a site when one is in no way connected with the illegal or inappropriate behavior depicted elsewhere on the site.

The definition of “inappropriate” is frighteningly vague. Does this mean the expression of opinions and positions not endorsed by the school administration is now the basis for disciplinary action if those officials consider such dissent to be “inappropriate”? What about discussions of and reflections upon experiences at school – comments on the personalities of teachers and classmates, or criticism of the quality of the education being received? Are such comments “inappropriate” blogging? Since I went to high school just a couple of miles down the road from Libertyville High School and also spent my seminary years in the area, I know that many folks might consider the legal possession and use of firearms by a minor to be “inappropriate” – would pictures of a student with his legal firearms be considered “inappropriate”? I won’t even get into the question of profane language or the sort of provocative photos some photos some ditzy teens post on MySpace or Facebook. Are these really school issues – even as regards extracurricular activities? After all, these restrictions clearly have the potential to implicate the First Amendment.

So I’ll throw this one out to you folks – what do you think on this issue? Is the board up in Libertyville making good policy, or is it crossing a line into a place where school boards ought not go?





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The school board is making an attempt to get parents off their backs. I would assume blogs are blocked with the school system's filter so the posting would have to be done at home. This is a parent issue. Parents should know what their kids are doing on the internet. Mine are 21 and 13 and I look at their sites all the time. If there is something I don't feel should be there they yank it off. However, I don't quite control my 21 year like I used to.:) My paralegal background tells me this new policy will be heavily challenged and might not make it.

|| Posted by elementaryhistoryteacher, May 25, 2006 04:03 PM ||
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