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California students rally to kill school district’s unconstitutional social media policy

Published time: August 29, 2013 02:18
Reuters / Stoyan Nenov

Reuters / Stoyan Nenov

High school students have helped bring about a repeal of a California district’s stifling new social media policy, which threatened to strip students of extracurricular activities for engaging in online activities, even in their free time.

Last spring, the Lodi School District adopted the policy, “Social Networking by Student-Athletes and Co-Curricular Participants,” which required all students and their parents agree to if they wanted to participate in extracurricular activities. The guidelines applied to students at all times, including off-campus.

According to the Student Press Law Center, the regulations sought to outlaw: “(1) speech making references to violence or to alcohol or drug use, (2) speech indicating knowledge of cyberbullying, (3) speech that is “demeaning” about any person, (4) “liking” or “retweeting” a social media post that contains prohibited speech, and (5) “subtweeting,” or posting a comment on Twitter that refers to a person who is not named.”

Students at Bear Creek High School in Stockton started circulating a district-wide petition among fellow students to repeal the new regulations. At a district board meeting in early August, Bear Creek students led the effort to vocalize dissatisfaction with the guidelines.

School and district officials countered, saying the regulations aim to combat cyberbullying, even though the policy only pertains to part of the student body.

"Online bullying is a problem, and we are looking to safeguard our students, because it is rampant," Bear Creek Principal Bill Atterberry told KCRA.

Atterberry said the school district’s attorneys looked at the policy and “said it was fine,” adding students also sent the policy to lawyers of their own.

In addition, the Student Press Law Center and the ACLU of Northern California wrote to the district in mid-August, asking for an immediate end to the enforcement of the “draconian and constitutionally infirm” rules.

Amid the growing pressure, the school district dropped the mandatory policy, positing it was “more of a guideline.”

“We will revise the statement in order to clearly communicate the original intent, which was to describe how social networking can lead to consequences at school,” the district’s superintendent wrote of the rescission.

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