Two students at Chapel Hill Middle School in Atlanta were suspended for becoming mad at a teacher of theirs, then calling said teacher a pedophile and a rapist on Facebook. The school claims the students violated part of the school’s rules, which include never to misrepresent one its teachers, a “level one” offense (in this case, level one being the worst kind, rather than the weakest) that resulted in one of the students, Alejandra Sosa, being suspended for ten days and facing further, harsher punishment.
Yes, Sosa (and other students who joined in on the Facebook conversation) committed a potentially harmful bit of Facebook libel toward an innocent teacher, but according to Sosa, the school isn’t exactly in the right either: Sosa claims principal Jolene Morris took Sosa to the school library, forced Sosa to log into her Facebook account, then took the keyboard from her and read the entire Facebook conversation before ordering Sosa to delete the comments.
The school offered a choice between two punishments for Sosa and two other offending students: Expulsion with enrollment in what was called an “alternative” school, or face a tribunal that may yield an even harsher punishment. The use of the term “alternative school” doesn’t mean “a school that isn’t this one;” in this case, it means a school for troubled youth. The parents of the offending children, some of which are honor roll students, feel that sending said children to that kind of school would derail their education, and this type of punishment is too harsh for twelve-year-olds.
This case may end up in court, according to the AJC, and should prove an interesting one, as professor of civil rights at Georgia State University Gerry Webber claims that online posts are subject to the same libel laws as any other type of media, but online comments are also protected by the First Amendment, and schools cannot punish students for off-campus speech so long as it doesn’t cause a disruption on campus. On top of this, the fact that the principal ordered her student to log into said student’s Facebook account so the principal could essentially violate the student’s privacy could play a part in favor of the students’ side of the case.
What do you think? Are comments twelve-year-olds make on Facebook worthy of expulsion or enrollment in a school for troubled youth?