I get asked if I mind when someone burns my music. I'm just flattered that people want to.
-Corey Smith
Lord Galen
Home  •  Classic Home  •   •  Forum  • 

Archive 2009:           2009 Archive Index           Main Archive Index

The Scope of School Authority
February 8, 2009

The following rant is based on this news story:
Rules to curb online bullying raise concerns
Do new laws and policies sparked by Missouri teen’s suicide go too far?

By Alex Johnson
updated 7:20 a.m. ET Jan. 23, 2009

Avery Doninger has put off going to college so she can volunteer with AmeriCorps — at least when she’s not in court.

Doninger, 18, graduated from Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, Conn., last June, but she has not left it behind. She is at the center of a landmark free-speech case, stemming from her days at the school, that appears headed for the Supreme Court.

Doninger was a star student at Mills, and in 2007 she wanted to run for senior class secretary, a position that included the honor of speaking at her graduation ceremony.

But Karissa Niehoff, the school’s principal, rejected Doninger’s candidacy over a personal blog entry Doninger posted from her home computer. In the posting, Doninger reported — inaccurately, it turned out — that a school event she had helped organize had been canceled. She blamed “douchebags in central office” for the supposed cancellation and reported that a flood of complaints had “pissed off” the school district’s superintendent.

Doninger ran as a write-in candidate and won, only to be barred from taking office. That led her mother to sue the school district on her behalf. The Doningers lost this month in U.S. District Court; their attorney promised to appeal the decision all the way to the Supreme Court.

To Doninger, the case hinges on her First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

“I think that it’s really important for students to stand up for their rights, because if we don’t maintain democracy on the lowest levels, we’ll never be able to maintain them on the highest levels,” she said.

But to school officials, Doninger is a cyberbully whose writings threatened to disrupt operations at the school.

“When kids are in a position of privilege, there are certain standards of behavior we expect them to uphold,” Niehoff said. “Our position stands for respect. We’re just hoping kids appreciate the seriousness of any communication over the Internet.”

Suicide sparks a national debate

Doninger’s case, which runs contrary to the student-as-victim storyline typical of cyberbullying cases, illustrates the difficulty legislators and authorities are encountering as they try to rein in what experts say is an increasingly common and virulent form of harassment.

Connecticut does not have a law against cyberbullying, defined by the National Crime Prevention Council as the use “the Internet, cell phones, or other devices ... to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” The state has an anti-bullying statute on the books, but it says nothing about the Internet and electronic communications, and it addresses only situations in which students are the victims.

But states’ efforts to bring some clarity to the realm of new communications technologies like blogs, instant messages and e-mail have done little to resolve when threatening or unruly behavior trumps freedom of speech, said Jeffrey Shaman, a First Amendment scholar at the DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.

“Prohibiting the libelous speech, prohibiting (and) regulating true threats, regulating harassment under certain circumstances — these laws need to be more precisely defined,” he said.

The issue of cyberbullying became the focus of a national debate last year, after Lori Drew, 49, was prosecuted in connection with the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., in October 2006.

Believing Megan had spread rumors about her own daughter, Drew and an employee of her small business assumed a false identity, that of a 16-year-old boy. After winning Megan’s trust, they began sending her venomous messages through her MySpace account.

“You are a bad person and everybody hates you,” said the last message sent to Megan from the fake account, according to court documents. “Have a [expletive] rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.”

Later that day, Megan was found hanging from her neck in a closet; she died the next day.

Local prosecutors concluded that there was no law addressing Drew’s behavior, and they declined to press charges. But in May, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles, where MySpace.com has its headquarters, indicted Drew on charges of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress — in other words, violating MySpace’s terms of use by faking an identity.

Drew was convicted of three misdemeanor violations of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and faces a maximum of three years in prison when she is sentenced in April.

The case was closely followed in Internet forums and blogs, in which many commentators complained that Drew was being prosecuted for ignoring the fine print of her MySpace account, not for a role in driving Megan to kill herself. And in its wake, a national movement to clamp down on cyberbullying — psychological abuse by and of children through the Internet — was born.

Biggest online threat to children?

According to the members of a task force appointed to assess protections for children on the Internet, more needs to be done.

In a report last month, the task force — appointed by a coalition of 49 state attorneys general (a spokeswoman said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott did not take part and did not endorse the findings) — concluded that while online sexual predation of minors generated more headlines, “bullying and harassment, most often by peers ... (were) the most frequent threats that minors face.”

The report, which was directed by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, cited 2007 research indicating that 1 in 6 American middle-school students had been the targets of cyberbullying, with effects ranging from depression to anxiety to “negative social views of themselves.” Separate research last year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as many as a third of all children had been the victims of online bullying.

Among numerous other technological and social recommendations, the task force called for law enforcement to allocate more resources for training, technology and enforcement to protect children from online bullies.

At least 35 states have enacted new laws or updated old laws to address bullying on the Internet. Some of those are general cyberstalking prohibitions that are not specifically targeted at schools, while others generally require local school districts to develop and enforce cyberbullying policies, as hundreds of districts across the nation have done already.

That leaves it up to local school officials — who may or may not be well versed in online etiquette or the twists of constitutional law — to weigh the need to shield some students from harassment against the rights of others to speak freely. And it has led to a patchwork approach to the problem.

The school district in Duluth, Minn., for instance, monitors all e-mail sent using students’ district accounts under what it calls the Internet Safety Program. It also offers parents monitoring equipment so they can keep track of their children’s social networking activities at home.

If a student’s e-mail message includes “bullying-type words or inappropriate words in general, then we’ll send that e-mail to a section where an administrator has to review it,” said Keith Anderson, the district’s coordinator of media techonology.

In the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, on the other hand, schools actively block social networking sites, among them MySpace and Facebook, said Joyce Stevens, the district’s director of technology.

The policies usually go beyond addressing students who bully students. More and more, authorities are responding to online attacks by students on teachers and administrators, as in the case of Avery Doninger.

“The problem of young people targeting teachers and other school staff is one that appears to be growing,” said Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, a nonprofit group in Eugene, Ore. Such attacks can be anything from “just a comment that’s negative about a teacher to really serious kinds of incidents.”

Constitutional doubts linger

Most such laws and policies have been enacted only in the past year or so, making it difficult to gauge their effectiveness. Still, they do give school officials tools to work with, administrators say.

“As far as making it clear this is inappropriate and not going to be tolerated, it’s nice to have language clearly stated in legislation and a potential policy in the future,” said Pam Hedgpeth, superintendent of the Republic School District in Missouri, which passed a cyberbullying law last year in the wake of Megan Meier’s death.

But legal experts say state laws and local policies are problematic, bumping up as as they do against First Amendment protections of freedom of speech.

“Permitting school officials to restrict student speech in the digital media expands the authority of school officials to clamp down on juvenile expression in a way previously unthinkable,” Mary-Rose Papadrea, a law professor at Boston College specializing in media law, wrote in the October edition of the Florida Law Review.

Papandrea zeroed in on a particularly contentious point for skeptics — the assumption that school administrators can punish students for what they write on their own time away from school, a question that is at the heart of Avery Doninger’s suit.

“Because digital speech is generally nowhere and everywhere at the same time,” Papandrea wrote, “permitting school officials to restrict such speech simply because it is accessed on school grounds, because it is somehow directed to the school grounds, or because it was reasonably foreseeable that it would come to the attention of school officials gives schools far too much authority to restrict the speech of juveniles generally.”

Little guidance from the courts

Courts remain divided over whether administrators’ power to regulate students’ online writings extends off campus, said David L. Hudson, a legal scholar for the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

“It will probably take a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to provide the necessary guidance to resolve these thorny issues,” Hudson concluded in a legal analysis for the center in August.

Even Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who supports his state’s recently passed law requiring school officials to report cyberbullying to police, says: “I’ll readily grant that this is a gray area. It’s a tough area.”

Judges who have ruled in the case of Avery Doninger wrestled with that question before ruling that school officials were justified in punishing her for her off-campus postings.

“The Supreme Court has yet to speak on the scope of a school’s authority to regulate expression that, like Avery’s, does not occur on school grounds or at a school-sponsored event,” wrote a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in rejecting Doninger’s initial appeal in May.

Without such guidance, the panel said, it could rely only on case law that predates the spread of the Internet.

“Avery’s post created a foreseeable risk of substantial disruption to the work and discipline of the school,” they wrote, adding that under that test, the record “failed to show clearly that Avery’s First Amendment rights were violated.”

Doninger acknowledges that the posting was “not my finest moment.”

“I’ve never been in trouble,” she wrote in an essay accompanying her college applications. “I am an engaged student, yet I did use an unsavory word.”

But “I believe in democracy,” she wrote. “I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I believe that each citizen is responsible for participating in the maintenance of democracy by challenging government officials when they overreach.

“The principal accused me of failing to be a good citizen. I disagree. Apathy and passivity are poor citizenship.”
[ Source ]

Apparently the court system, school administrators, and even many parents are having a hard time lately. It would appear, from the article quoted above, that our beloved American judges are suffering from an acute infection of what I have dubbed "The Ameritard Plague." I make this deduction based on the fact that the primary symptom of this Plague is the brain's seeming shut-down of the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain is what controls decision-making, logical thinking, empathy, being able to predict the consequences of one's actions, and basically just plain common sense. It's interesting to note that the pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that junk-science claims is "switched off" during adolescense. I find it to be an interesting coincidence that it's this part of the adult brain that seems to go completely fucking dead when adults try to make decisions concerning teenagers.

But have no fear! Lord Galen is, as always, here to help you. Plague sufferers need a healthy does of reality and common sense to speed them on their way to recovery, and wouldn't you know it, a god named after an ancient physician has the fucking cure. Listen up, morons.

Common Sense: You work at a school. What happens outside of school is NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS, assholes!

A student said something mean about you on her blog? Well BOO FUCKING HOO, you goddamn crybaby! Aren't you supposed to be setting some kind of example? I don't see much of a good example being set by you spying on your students' personal lives and then getting pissed that they think you're an idiot! Every time one of my students tells me "He called me a name!" I ask one simple question: Is it true? If the students are calling you an idiot, is it true? ARE you an idiot? If you're not, then IGNORE IT! Isn't that the message we teach kids? Shouldn't you fucks be setting an example by doing the same thing you tell them to do?

Here's something I've learned from my years in the education system. Maybe you should listen up. Not all of my students like me. In fact, some of them absolutely despise me! Some of them probably think I'm a big fucking joke or the biggest douchebag asshole walking the planet. Well guess what, being a teacher isn't a motherfucking popularity contest. Who CARES if some of the kids don't like me? And, frankly, who gives a shit if they plaster their MySpace saying I'm a dick?!

It's called freedom of speech, you idiots, and it DOES apply to your students just as much as it applies to you and me. It also DOES apply to their fucking blog, MySpace, Facebook, LiveJournal, BlogTV, or any other shitty "express yourself" service they post on! Those are ALL forms of "the media." No, not the traditional media like newspapers or television, but it is still a form of communications media nonetheless. So what we have here is really a case of the government institution (a school) attempting to silence the negative press they're getting through the use of fear, intimidation, and punishment for the free expression of thought.

And then we come to the part where these morons have the goddamn nerve to call this "cyberbullying." So, someone questioning the competance of an authority figure is now "bullying" and is classified as a crime? QUESTIONING AUTHORITY IS A CRIME??? This is a completely fabricated bullshit charge. I think that today, in the United States of the Offended, we have perhaps forgotten what bullying actually IS. Let's play Spot The Bully:

I know, it's a hard game. Ok, I'll give you a hint. The girl on the right (Avery Doninger, the girl from the news article) is not threatening, intimidating, or acting with malice. Furthermore, she does not have any power (either physical, mental, or social) over those she is speaking to/about (her school's central office).

You see, morons, in order for me to bully someone, I must have some sort of power over them. I must be able to force them to concede to my demands by excersizing this power to make them miserable or uncomfortable if they do not. No, calling someone names is NOT "bullying" you cowardly fucking turd! To express a negative opinion about someone or something is not "bullying." What it is, in fact, is a constitutionally guaranteed RIGHT that all citizens of the United States are granted, upon the moment of their birth, by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution! Wanna hear what's REALLY fucked up about this situation? Take note of what bullying actually IS. Got it? Now, doesn't that sound an awful lot like exactly what the school board is doing to Avery Doninger? I find it disturbing that the government is bullying an 18yo girl while accusing her of bullying THEM!

And frankly, how DARE you assholes use a cyberbullying law that was written after an innocent kid was driven to suicide by being bullied to defend your fucking fascist cocksucking bullshit desire to have a teenage girl stop being mean to you. WHAT A BUNCH OF FUCKING PUSSIES!!!

If what Avery Doninger did is "bullying" then I must be a goddamn mob kingpin after this shit! But really, if I *could* bully you fucks, you'd be kissing that girl's goddamn feet and praying that I don't stick your face in the toilet again as punishment for being stupid pinko commie douchebags!

Hey, you fucks, this is THE GODDAMN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! If we don't like you, WE'RE ALLOWED TO SAY IT! Go fuck yourself with a nail gun, light yourself on fire, and die in a muddy ditch, you cunts!

Archive 2009:           2009 Archive Index           Main Archive Index