A 17-year-old student who posted on his blog site that he was being bullied and threatened by the Plainfield School District will face an expulsion hearing this week, a local attorney said.
Superintendent John Harper, who cannot comment on student cases, said the district will take action if it believes there is a safety issue. Meanwhile a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union said school districts must be careful not to discipline students on matters that occur outside school. The student's attorney believes Plainfield School District is overstepping its boundaries.
"The district is going to take away the student's education for exercising his freedom of speech," said attorney Carl Buck. "I feel like they are trying to control his freedom of speech. ... He is saying, 'You can't bully people and we have a right to object and you can't throw people out of school for voicing their opinions.'"
On May 1, the student posted a letter to Plainfield School District on www.xanga.com , telling off the district, using vulgar words and saying he could put whatever he wanted on his site.
On a second post on May 2, without mentioning the school the student wrote: "I feel threatened by you, I cant even have a public Web page with out you bullying me and telling me what has to be removed. Where is this freedom of speech that this government is sworn to uphold? ... Did you ever stop to think this will start a community backlash? The kids at Columbine did what the did because they were bullied. ... In my opinion you are the real threat here. None of us ever put in our xanga's that they were going to kill or bring harm to any one. We voiced our opinions. You are the real threat here. you are depriving us of our right to learn. now stick that in your pipe and smoke it."
Sites like www.myspace.com and www.xanga.com are blocked from most school district computers. These sites are controversial because students often post too much information -- everything from addresses and phone numbers to provocative photos -- making them vulnerable to sexual predators.
"Our beef is it wasn't a threat. It wasn't at school," Buck said. "He doesn't name any individuals. What he is commenting on is their disciplinary action on the Freedom of Speech."
The student's mother said the district suspended her son for 10 days for inappropriate comments and vague threats. She thinks the school is overreacting. "I asked, 'If this is such a serious threat, did you call the FBI?' They said, 'No, we don't have time for this.' I asked, 'Did you call the Joliet police?' and they said, 'no.'"
In most cases, posting strong feelings and opinions on the Internet is not a crime, said Fred Hayes, deputy chief for Joliet Police Department. "Now, they can post it on a Web site. We are not seeing an explosion of new feelings or expressions from students. What you are seeing is the availability of technology to share that with quite a few people," Hayes said.
"It is not a crime to write things on the Internet – though we find them offensive, troubling and disheartening, it is not a crime," Hayes said.
Still, it's a very fine line. "If a student wrote, 'I'm so frustrated I wish the school would blow up' — that would not be a crime," Hayes explained. However, "if a student were to post on a Web site ... at 2 p.m. a bomb will go off in a school -- that would probably cross a line to a crime."
The above paragraph is right. I do believe that the school is over stepping it's bounds here.