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Restraining students freedom of speech in the culture of cruelty

Did you know that students are now the subject of draconian laws in North Carolina that would fine them for ‘tormenting teachers’?

North Carolina is one of those confederate states where the reactionaries have taken over the seat of power with the help of multi-millionaire and racist Art Pope who buys politicians like you pruchase electricity.

After years spent trying to shield students from online bullying by their peers, schools are beginning to crack down on Internet postings that disparage teachers.

We seem to be living at the foot of the gallows.  Youth disposability, the school to prison pipeline and the villification of the young have carved out a dystopia of pain and suffering for kids.

This is what Henry Giroux calls the Culture of Cruelty and he is spot on.  From zero-tolerance to the full denuding of rights, we currently live in a society where the old are trampled and the young are handcuffed.

As you will read, the fascists are moving quickly to rstrain the use of the internet at any costs.  If we have young people and an open internet we have a chance, maybe: but if we have no open internet and youth inprisonment then we have the material conditions for the foul flourishing of what can only be called neo-feudal, corporate medievalism.

The Wall Street Journal reported on September 17, 2012:

Schools elsewhere in the U.S. have punished the occasional tweeter who hurls an insult at a teacher, but North Carolina has taken it a step further, making it a crime for students to post statements via the Internet that “intimidate or torment” faculty. Students convicted under the law could be guilty of a misdemeanor and punished with fines of as much as $1,000 and/or probation.


The move is one of the most aggressive yet by states to police students’ online activities. While officials have long had the ability to regulate student speech at school, the threat of cyberbullying teachers, which typically occurs off-campus, has prompted efforts to restrain students’ use of the Internet on their own time.

Andy McMillan for The Wall Street JournalJudy Kidd, a Charlotte, N.C., teacher said teachers needed a law for ‘protection’ from online comments.

School officials in North Carolina and elsewhere say the moves are necessary to protect teachers in an age when comments posted online—sometimes by students pretending to be the teachers they are mocking—can spread quickly and damage reputations.

The North Carolina law makes it a crime for a student to “build a fake profile or web site” with the “intent to intimidate or torment a school employee.”

Critics, however, argue the law risks trampling on mere venting and other less inflammatory forms of expression.

“Our concern is that we don’t throw the First Amendment out the window in our haste to get the kid who is calling the principal bad names on Facebook,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., a national group that advocates for students’ free-speech rights.

Traditional issues of free speech on public-school grounds are largely settled, thanks to a 1969 Supreme Court ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines. That ruling held that students’ First Amendment rights are generally protected on campus, but that administrators can punish them for speech on school grounds when they can clearly show it caused significant disruption to school activities or violated others’ rights.

But while past off-campus insults about a school employee were largely undetected and unpunished, cyberinsults are digitally preserved and on display for many to see.

The wide use of social media, particular among teens, makes such platforms the go-to place for such incendiary comments.

While nearly every U.S. state has now passed measures to curb student-on-student cyberbullying, North Carolina is apparently the first to pass a law aimed at students bullying teachers online.

Courts have been mixed on the issue. Last year, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in two separate decisions, said two schools, both in Pennsylvania, had encroached on students’ free-speech rights by punishing them for creating social media profiles mocking their school principals. The court held that the students’ parodies, which were created off-campus, didn’t significantly disrupt the schools.

Associated PressStudent Avery Doninger, in 2007, was at the center of a case about a comment she made on a blog.

School Rules

Under a new law, North Carolina students face a fine of as much as $1,000 and/or probation if they:

  • Build a fake profile of…
  • Post a real or fake image of…
  • Post information about…
  • Or repeatedly contact…

…school employees, including teachers

In one case, Justin Layshock, a high-school student, mocked his principal in a Myspace profile parody, writing, among other things, that the principal was “too drunk to remember” his own birthday. In the other case, a middle-school student identified in court documents only by initials J.S. created a Myspace page to make fun of her school principal. using his photo and including among his general interests: “hitting on students and their parents.”

Yet in a separate case in Connecticut last year, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found administrators were within the law when they disciplined Avery Doninger, a high-school student, for posting a message to her blog encouraging people to call school officials a profanity in order to protest the school’s “jamfest” being canceled.

Even though Ms. Doninger wrote the post off campus, the court held that it created a substantial disturbance at school to warrant a punishment. Mr. Layshock and Ms. Doninger, whose cases garnered national attention, have gone on to graduate from college, attorneys for them said.

In the past year, the U.S. Supreme Court has turned down opportunities to hear those three cases, as well as a fourth about student speech, which might have brought some clarity. In the fourth case, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found it permissible for administrators in West Virginia to suspend a student who had created a Myspace page ridiculing another student.

The Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina l based in Charlotte, lobbied for the teacher-bullying provisions to be included in the state’s School Violence Prevention Act of 2012 after fielding complaints about students using social media sites and email to make false accusations about school employees, said Judy Kidd, the group’s president. In one case Ms. Kidd cited, a sixth-grader sent sexually explicit emails about a teacher to other students. In another, a high-school student posted false allegations on Facebook that an instructor for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps had groped her while fitting her for a uniform.

“It became apparent that we had to get some kind of protection,” said Ms. Kidd, a high-school science teacher in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Some free-speech advocates say the North Carolina law gives administrators wide latitude to go after students and possibly infringe on free speech. They say the law, which was passed in July, could be enforced against students who are making truthful statements or posting undoctored photos of staff.

Thomas Wheeler, an Indiana lawyer who represents school districts, said he hoped a case will be heard by the Supreme Court and result in clear guidance from the justices on how far schools can go to police what students say online and on social media sites. “The times have changed and we are trying to get caught up,” he said.

Write to Steve Eder at [email protected]

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About The Author

Dr. Danny Weil is a public interest attorney who has practiced for more than twenty years and has been published in a case of first impression in California. He is no longer active as a lawyer but has written seven books on education, has taught second grade in South Central LA, PS 122, taught K-1 migrant children in Santa Maria, California and Guadalupe, California, taught in the California Youth Authority to first and second degree murderers and taught for seventeen years at Allan Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, CA. in the philosophy department. Dr. Weil holds a BA in Political Economics and Philosophy, a multi-subject bilingual credential in education (he is fluent in Spanish) and has a PhD in Critical Thinking. He is a writer for the Truthout Intellectual Project.

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