too much freedom

It is important to remember that the freedoms we have in this country are couched within the box of restrictions that the Constitution and our social norms allow.  Our first amendment rights (Freedom of Speech) is a great example of this.  These restrictions are best explained as time, place, and manner (TPM) restrictions accommodate public convenience and promote order by regulating traffic flow, preserving property interests, conserving the environment, and protecting the administration of justice.  In other words you have to right to say whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want as long as you don’t lie about your subject, attempt to cause harm with your speech or intentionally mislead the public with your speech.

Middle and High School students speech is even further restricted inside the confines of the school buildings.  School officials can only restrict speech if it is perceived to be disruptive to the school environment and its students.  So yes, students do have freedom of speech, but the box that they live in is much smaller in comparison to yours or mine.  Furthermore, all of the Supreme Court cases that deal with this topic were laid down prior to the internet explosion, and the prevalence of MySpace, and Facebook.

In two recent court decisions, Pennsylvania, student’s freedom of speech has been expanded and encouraged. , In both cases, the Pa Supreme Court allowed students to parody school officials from their homes on Facebook using their own computers.  They made jokes about school officials and in another case created epitaph filled remarks about the size of a principal.  The Court decided in both cases that the students did not violate established guidelines for current law and therefore their speech was protected.

The posting of these “parodies” was purposely posted for public consumption on the World Wide Web, which reaches into the school building.   The purpose was a juvenile attempt to demean and disrupt the authority of building officials.  They posted misleading, harmful and potentially job killing remarks about these professionals.  These principals’ abilities to be pillars within their communities and to lead future generations of students has been seriously if not permanently degraded.

In both of these cases I agree with the dissenting decisions.  The courts protected the wrong kind of speech here. They harmed the educational environment because students now can mock an administrator/teacher without fear of punishment. Make no mistake, the decisions that were made in Pennsylvania will be used in other states to challenge and push student’s first amendment rights even further.   If these cases are allowed to stand as they currently are, discipline and the public view of educators will continue to decline in both importance and significance in our countries eyes.