Students sue high school over questionable disipline; In The Ring: Where should school rules end?

Eric Van Allen, Kelly Gallagher, and Evan Tormollen

INTRO

     With the dawn of social networking web sites and cell phones, teens have found a new way to live out their lives on the internet. No longer are letters written or house phones called, as teens now e-mail, text, send photos and post their “status” on the internet. This great increase in communication can be seen as both a blessing and a curse and, in some cases, it can have serious consequences for teens who thought they were just having a little bit of fun.

     In October of this year, two girls from a high school in Churubusco, Indianapolis sued their school district after they were punished for posting racy photos on their MySpace pages. These photos were taken over the summer at a sleepover, and were set to a privacy setting so that only their friends on MySpace could view the pictures. The school district, when notified about the pictures, banned them from their extracurricular activities and had them apologize to an all-male coach’s board and undergo counseling.

     The reasoning behind the punishment from the school board is that the pictures could have caused a disruptive environment at the girls’ high school, and the athletic code that the girls signed when participating in extracurricular activities has a specific allowance for the principal to ban students from participating in athletics if their actions are deemed a disruptive influence on the good order or moral environment of the school.

     The girls’ attorneys replied that this is an encroachment on the girls’ right to freedom of speech, and that the pictures would not cause a disruption to the school’s environment, especially because of the amount of privacy set on them. They also claim that the principal and the district overstepped their boundaries in punishment, especially with the forced apology to a board of all-males and counseling sessions. The American Civil Liberties Union has decided to back the girls and is the party filing the lawsuit.

     This court case is just a representation of the kind of predicaments that our generation faces: the fact that what used to be private can now be instantaneously public, and furthermore, how public our public domain really is. While some things may seem harmless at first, we will soon have to decide how private sites like Facebook and MySpace really are. Two of our own staff reporters have decided to weigh in their opinions on the Churubusco case, and state their opinion of the court decisions to come. Find out, In The Ring….

KELLY’S SIDE

     For most teenagers, high school takes up most of the day. We spend eight hours here, five days a week, 40 weeks of the year, give or take a few holidays. This lasts for four years and then you finally escape to the real world and become independent. The only days a high schooler gets to themselves is the shining moments of Saturday and Sunday which, in most cases, can be spent devoted to the extra work teachers assign. What a student chooses to do with the little free time they have should be completely up to them. In the case of the girls from Churubusco High School being kicked out of the athletics program, the administration had no jurisdiction over the girls because the school was not involved in any way. They over-stepped their boundaries by implementing a punishment when the girls were acting outside of school.

      Most adults would probably disagree with me. Some might see it as necessary to completely monitor youth at all times and punish us when we step out of line. However, what we do in our free time should not have anything to do with the school. If the school is not represented in any way in the activity, apart from the fact that  the students attend the school, there should be no jurisdiction over what we do in our free time. I understand the school punishing students if the offenses were to happen on school grounds or the school logo were to be involved. This would change the situation because then the school would be represented in what they would consider a bad light. So, as long as the school isn’t involved in any way, our free time should be ours. But if we can’t do what we want outside of school, then our ability to live free in this country is being jeopardized. The Bill of Rights applies to all citizens of the United States. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression should not be something the school can take away from us. By punishing us for activities occurring outside of school, they are doing just that.

     If a student chooses to be involved in certain organizations, such as STAND or PALs, then improper behavior could affect their placement. In reality, however, it should be up to the student if they want to be a hypocrite or not. If a student were to join STAND but then go out and party on the weekends, that should be their prerogative. In high school we should be learning the values of being a responsible adult. I would consider one of those values learning not to be a hypocrite, but we’re never going to learn the lesson if it’s just shoved down our throats. I’ve always found the best way to learn is by making the mistakes myself, rather than just hearing what is right and wrong. Learning by experience tends to stick with a person more than just accepting what is being told to them. As teenagers, we are curious about what the world has to offer, but just telling us that something is bad usually doesn’t prevent us from doing it. I like to think of it as our way of rebellion. We all do it in some form or another because it is simply human nature. For some reason in the adolescent years, we feel the need to branch out and learn things on our own. If this rebellion doesn’t take place in high school, then it is possible it could take place later on in life when we are adults and there are more severe consequences.

     We can’t be expected to grow and mature in our teenage years if we have the school monitoring everything we do in our personal lives. If we choose to break the law, then we have those consequences to deal with. If we go against our parents’ wishes, then most likely we will be punished by them. I don’t see the need for the school to also get involved if the behavior had absolutely nothing to do with them. This should apply to every student who attends high school; whether you’re a cheerleader, in athletics, a member of STAND or PALs. What happens outside of school should be your own business. Just because you choose to partake in activities in your free time that might be frowned upon by the school, shouldn’t mean that you’re not allowed to be involved in anything at school. Yes, if you’re posing provocatively you probably shouldn’t be a member of PALs, but that doesn’t mean you should also be barred from a sport you enjoy or a different club that has nothing relating to leadership or being a role model.  And, if you decide that you want to partake in illegal activities such as underage drinking or drug use, the law will punish you sufficiently without the school stepping in.

     Taking “provocative” pictures of yourself and posting them on Facebook or attending a house party doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person.  It’s possible that the person taking the pictures of them thinks the pictures are cute or the person going to the house party has grown up with their parents throwing parties at their own house. Everyone grows up differently and their parents have diverse ideas on how kids should be raised. If the parent of the student doesn’t see anything wrong with what their child is doing, the school shouldn’t be allowed to override the authority of the parent by punishing the student.

     What a student chooses to do on their own time should be up to them. There shouldn’t be the constant threat of the school being allowed to discipline the student if they feel the actions are not suitable. How we choose to act outside of school should not affect our lives inside of school. In the case stated above, the girls should not have been punished so harshly by the school when the school had nothing to do with it. The school should have minded their own business and let the parents handle the situation. Personally, I think the girls will win the case against the school because the school completely over-stepped their boundaries .

EVAN’S SIDE

     When the founding fathers of America came together to write The Bill of Rights, their First Amendment really hit home with most people. This amendment to the Constitution basically restricts the government from ever making a law that inhibits a person’s freedom of speech or choice in religion among other important freedoms. This makes sense, after all, who would want to be censored? Although the founding fathers of our nation were very generous in giving us this right, I don’t think they accounted for anyone trying to take advantage of it.

     For example, think back to many instances of teachers being fired from their schools for imparting their ideas on their students. A particular teacher may feel the need to discuss their views on politics or gay marriage in class, but their school may have labeled these topics taboo in their curriculum. These teachers may claim that the school is violating their First Amendment rights, but this is not the case. A teacher must agree to a school’s code of conduct if they wish to work there. So how can they say their freedom of speech is being violated if they clearly consented?

     This idea is specifically seen in the case of the Churubusco High School incident. The girls feel that their First Amendment rights were cruelly violated and are suing the school. However, I don’t feel that this is the case. Yes, the girls were dismissed from the school’s athletic department, but they had every reason to be. They agreed to the athletic team’s code of conduct, and then essentially went back on their word by disobeying it. These girls feel it necessary to take legal action against the high school because they decided to ignore the rules.

     The girls’ attorneys argue that the girls were justified in taking their pictures because they took them in the privacy of their homes, and had their MySpace accounts set to “private.” This means that only their friends on MySpace can see them. They argue that the girls’ First Amendment rights were violated because the girls weren’t sharing these pictures with everyone, just people they know. However, with the exponential increase in usage of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook comes the decreased amount of secrecy on the internet. With teens scrambling to add as many “friends” as they can, they in turn let more people see their pages and all of their posts. If someone posts something on the internet, regardless of any “private” setting, they are inviting virtually anyone to look at it. So if a morally questionable picture is posted to MySpace, regardless of the setting, it is still being seen by other people, which is the basis of the Churubusco High School athletic department’s argument.

     My opponent seems to think that the organizations that suffer from one of their members getting into trouble should have no choice but to face the loss of credibility without options. She states “what happens outside school should be your own business.” This kind of thinking is naïve. Schools get involved with student behavior out of school when the behavior can affect the learning environment, as in the case of fights, bullying and harassment. This “Vegas” like mentality isn’t realistic.

     No matter what arguments are made, this incident essentially comes down to something smaller than the First Amendment. This whole fiasco can be easily solved by a concept we, as humans, have known forever. It comes down to the logic behind rules. We have been taught since birth that if we break a rule, we will receive a negative consequence. This fact is often reinforced throughout our lives and we eventually come to find that regardless of any excuses we make,  every action has its consequence. The girls in the Churubusco High School case should not get any special treatment. Sure, people may argue that the school has overstepped their boundaries by punishing the girls for their actions outside of the school, but it really comes down to rules. The girls broke an athletic code of conduct and received consequences for disobeying.

     An example of this logic can be seen in an organization at our school, Student Timberwolves Against Negative Decisions, or STAND. This group is an extra-curricular organization that meets outside of school hours, just like an athletic team. While the students involved in STAND might not do the exact same thing an athletic team does, they still hold their members accountable for their actions. Keeping this in mind, it would probably not surprise anyone if a member of this anti-substance abuse group was kicked out if pictures of them drinking alcohol were posted online. After all, members of STAND are role models for many students and often speak at elementary and middle schools about the dangers of alcohol. So why should the Churubusco High School girls’ athletics be any different?  These girls are expected to represent their school by being part of athletic teams and should be expected to do so in a positive light.

     In the case of the Churubusco High School girls, no one forced the girls to join athletics. However, they did say that if they wish to join athletics that they must follow their code of conduct. If these girls were to find this code of conduct unfair, then they should not have joined the group in the first place.

     Thanks to the valiant efforts of our founding fathers, we are able to make choices for ourselves in what we do in our lives. We live in America, and can thus choose how we wish to spend our time outside of school. We can join any group we want to. However, we also have to keep rules in mind.  If we sign up for a group that adheres to a certain code, we shouldn’t be shocked when this group punishes us for breaking it.