THE BLOG BOG
Social networking sites, all the rage among students, are landing some school districts in legal hot water.
Maple Place Middle School student Ryan Dwyer with his parents in 2003.
The hullabaloo around social networking web sites like MySpace.com is officially impossible for school administrators to ignore. Use of such sites by teenagers, and even kids as young as 12, has ballooned in the last two years. They use them to discuss (and insult) their schools, teachers, and fellow students. And sometimes they cross the line by issuing threats.
A student at a St. Charles (IL) School District middle school recently posted a blog entry that described going to “the big dance” and ruining it with the help of his “little friend,” a reference to the violent 1983 movie Scarface. A concerned parent contacted the school, and police were able to locate the boy who made the post. No charges were filed against the teen, who is now receiving counseling.
Web posts containing clear threats are often easier to deal with than those that parody school staff or insult classmates. Administrators are finding themselves in the middle of a delicate balancing act, trying to properly address parental and faculty concerns without getting involved in messy lawsuits over students’ First Amendment rights. Some, alas, have not been able to avoid the courtroom.
In November, school officials at Oceanport (NJ) School District agreed to pay former student Ryan Dwyer $117,500 to settle a lawsuit claiming his First Amendment rights were violated when he was suspended, benched from the baseball team, and barred from a class trip for postings he made to his web site. The eighth grader wrote, “Maple Place is the worst school on the planet!” and “The principal . . . is not your friend and is a dictator.” Other students posted more offensive comments, but the court found that Dwyer could not be held responsible for other students’ posts and that his own postings, if insulting, were not grounds for punishment by the school.
This doesn’t exactly bode well for Hermitage (PA) School District, which has recently invested in a $375-an-hour computer forensic expert to testify in its case against a Hickory High School senior who sued the district after he was suspended for 10 days and placed in an alternative educational program for posting a fictitious online profile on MySpace that made fun of the school’s principal.
At issue is where a school’s authority ends. Many schools have blocked access to sites like MySpace on school property. But what happens when kids go home? Legally, administrators have little power to regulate student blogs written and posted at home on their own computers unless it causes “substantial disorder in the classroom,” says Kevin Bankston, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit group that works to protect digital rights. But does insulting a principal or teasing a student in a blog meet the level of “substantial disorder?” In the case of Oceanport, the court said no and the district paid the price.
So what is a school administrator to do? Bankston suggests you stop short of banning students from writing about the school on personal blogs off campus or trying to regulate such speech. “If a student is posting a threat or admits to breaking laws, then it’s OK for administrators to act on it. But the school has no right to censor off-campus speech,” says Bankston. “Schools should focus on educating kids about how to safely and respectfully use these technologies. The answer is communication, not punishment.” So keep on top of what’s out there. Take specific concerns seriously, but try not to let personal issues between school staff and students turn into expensive lawsuits that, in the end, no one really wins.
Three Big Deals
Through a partnership with Learning.com, Arizona will become the first state in the nation to formally measure elementary and middle school students’ proficiency with information and communication technology. With a contract that includes professional development and setup fees, the Arizona Department of Education plans to administer assessment of at least 25,000 fifth- and eighth-grade students by June 30, 2006.
In only eight business days, school districts in Wyoming gathered, cleaned, and submitted data on every teacher, course, and student in the state to the Wyoming Department of Education. This action represents the first time a state education agency ever implemented an official district-wide data collection using technologies based on the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) specifications. The next-generation solution utilizes the products and services of ESP Solutions Group and Edustructures, LLC.
TrueNorthLogic has contracted with the California Department of Education (CDE) to provide the technology framework for supporting, training, and maintaining the EdTechProfile site, one of four CDE State Education Technology Service (SETS) projects. TrueNorthLogic is responsible for providing a non-proprietary and vendor-neutral solution to support a statewide education program available to 750,000-plus users in more than 14,000 schools and 1,400 districts.
Making Links to Learning
The new Tiger Woods Learning Center offers up innovative after-school programs along with swing tips.
Above: Tiger Woods opened the doors to his after-school facility in February at a ceremony attended by former President Bill Clinton, California First Lady Maria Shriver, and some of the center’s students. “This is bigger than anything I’ve done on the golf course,” said the golf great, “because we will be able to shape lives.” Top right: An architect’s rendering of the center’s student lounge. Bottom right: An aerial view of the Tiger Woods Learning Center.
Here’s an idea that improves students’ career chances in more ways than one: The 35,000-square-foot Tiger Woods Learning Center, which opened last month in Anaheim, California, will provide an estimated 5,000 students in grades four through eight with free interactive enrichment programs in reading, math, science, and technology.
Specific classes will promote career exploration and preparation in areas such as forensic science, engineering, aerospace, video production, and home design.
Working closely with the school districts in the region, the full-time staff of educators has developed a series of programs that will augment their current school curricula.
The $25 million building itself is state of the art. It features a computer lab with more than 100 wireless computer stations, a multimedia center that sports a 45-inch LCD screen, a student lounge with wi-fi access, a 200-seat auditorium, and a café.
Even the construction is innovative. The auditorium uses photovoltaic panels—glass that is capable of capturing light and transforming it into power.
The center may also be a breeding ground for future CEOs: Golf is understandably offered as a major recreational activity. The grounds include a 10-acre driving range with 20 tee stations and a three-acre, 18-hole putting course.
The site is located next to the H.G. “Dad” Miller Golf Course, where Woods took up the sport he mastered. He personally donated the first $5 million to the project and his heavyweight celebrity status has led to an additional 25 founding partners, including Intel, Target, Dell, Nike, and others.
Photos: The Tiger Woods Foundation
April 19, 2006
This is a one-time, online conference.
For those of you looking to keep budget cuts from affecting learning environments, this web cast will help you find solutions. Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for technology for Plano Independent (TX) School District, will moderate.
Together in Excellence
April 23–25, 2006
Sioux Falls Convention Center and Sheraton Hotel
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The TIE Conference has a tradition of offering practical, technology-integrated workshops and presentations for those interested in implementing technology in education. Educators will come together to share and facilitate new ideas, see the latest products and services, and network with other education professionals and stakeholders.
International Reading Association 51st Annual Convention
Great Teachers Inspire the World
April 30–May 4, 2006
Lakeside Center of Chicago’s McCormick Place
The International Reading Association’s annual convention is the field’s leading professional development opportunity, where thousands of educators gather to learn from colleagues from around the world.
MOVERS & SHAKERS
John E. Deasy will leave his position as superintendent of the Santa Monica–Malibu Unified (CA) School District now that he has been named the lead candidate for superintendent of Prince George’s County (MD) public schools, the seventeenth largest school system in the country.
The Evanston Township (IL) High School (ETHS) board voted 4–3 to hire Eric Witherspoon to replace Allan Alson, who will retire in June 2006 after 14 years as ETHS’s superintendent.
The school board for Sycamore Community (OH) Schools hired the Ohio School Boards Association to help conduct the search for a superintendent to replace Karen Mantia, who is retiring July 31, 2006. The selection process will cost between $5,900 and $8,000.
After a 13-year reign, Joan Sergent, superintendent of Utica Community (MI) Schools, announced her retirement for this summer. The Michigan Association of School Administrators named Sergent 2005 Superintendent of the Year.
The Albion (MI) Public Schools board decided to buy out its embattled superintendent, Mario Morrow, for $75,000, although some say the board should have fired him outright. Morrow was arrested in October 2005 for operating a vehicle while visibly impaired and registering a 0.21 blood alcohol level, more than twice the legal limit.