Student speech in an online age

The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that "students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate." But the internet has both courts and schools trying to determine just where that gate is nowadays, writes First Amendment attorney Robert C. Clothier in an op-ed piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer. "As the Supreme Court has ruled, students outside school have the same First Amendment rights as adults. And while they don’t shed those rights entirely on campus, they are curtailed during school or school-sponsored activities," Clothier writes. "That’s where the internet is causing difficulties. Online speech isn’t just off-campus speech; it’s everywhere. What students say on the web can be accessed on campus and has an on-campus impact. So schools want to regulate such speech to preserve order and discipline. On the other hand, some students feel schools are improperly punishing them for online speech that has little or no effect in school. And internet communication is an extremely significant part of students’ lives these days. So far, court rulings on the issue have made a muddle of things, leaving administrators, students, and parents scratching their heads. … The [courts] must render a clear, easily followed rule that strikes the right balance between students’ legitimate First Amendment rights and a safe, orderly school environment."

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