Thursday, October 27, 2005

Is it censorship for a school to forbid students to blog?

Not if it's a private school.
School Orders Students to Remove Blogs
Catholic High School in N.J. Orders Students to Remove Blogs, Citing Threat From Cyberpredators

NEWARK, N.J. Oct 26, 2005 — A Roman Catholic high school has ordered its students to remove their online diaries from the Internet, citing a threat from cyberpredators.

Students at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta appear to be heeding a directive from the principal, the Rev. Kieran McHugh.

McHugh told them in an assembly earlier this month to remove any personal journals they might have or risk suspension. Web sites popular with teens include and

Officials with the Diocese of Paterson say the directive is a matter of safety, not censorship. No one has been disciplined yet, said Marianna Thompson, a diocesan spokeswoman.

She said the ban has been on the books for five years but is only now being strictly enforced. Thompson said students aren't being silenced but rather told that they cannot post online writings about school or their personal lives.

A search of both and Wednesday by The Associated Press found no postings by users who mentioned the school. Profiles posted by other users include photos and detailed personal information on topics such as musical tastes, body measurements and sexual history.

Kurt Opsahl of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which champions the rights of bloggers, said there have been several attempts by private institutions elsewhere to restrict or censor students' Internet postings.

"But this is the first time we've heard of such an overreaction," he said. "It would be better if they taught students what they should and shouldn't do online rather than take away the primary communication tool of their generation."

Thompson said parents of students who enroll in the schools sign contracts governing student behavior, including responsible Internet use.

That could dilute the students' free speech claims somewhat, acknowledged Ed Barocas, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

"The rights of students at private schools are far different than those of public schools because administrators at public schools are agents of government," he said. "That's not the case here."
Apparently the AP wasn't savvy enough to check Blogspot or LiveJournal, which I'd suspect would have some student blogs.

The EFF is completely wrong. The ACLU started to admit the lack of a "free speech" basis but probably doesn't quite understand why. A private institution has the right to regulate its members' conduct, including requiring certain standards and disciplining (or expelling) members who fail to meet them. The students are at the Catholic high school by choice, so they accept certain limitations on their freedom of speech. It's irrelevant whether the school is practicing censorship or wants to shield their students from online predators; it's also irrelevant what students put in their blogs.

Are the school officials overreacting? They have a great concern for their students' safety: the officials weighed the risks and decided that curtailing some of students' online activities is worth the increase in their safety. If the parents disagree with the policy, they have the option to send their children to a different school. Ultimately it's only the parents who can determine if the school is doing the right thing, by keeping their children there.


Anonymous Standard Mischief said...

Wow, looks like we blogged the same story only a few moments apart.

I am so very glad that you didn't bring up the child molester angle, but I still think you are wrong.

The parents of those kids can't sign away all the students rights, there has to be a limit somewhere.

Thursday, October 27, 2005 1:26:00 AM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

There certainly is a limit: the parents' own judgment. If they don't like a school's particular policy, they have the freedom to pull their children out. That's the nature of a private school.

Thursday, October 27, 2005 1:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Standard Mischief said...

The kids can not, for instance, be held to a contract signed by their parents, that gives away the 100 percent of their total earned income until age 32 in exchange for education.

So there obviously is a limit to the rights the kids have, that the parents are unable to sign away.

Our dispute is where exactly those rights are that the parents cannot sign away.

Thursday, October 27, 2005 2:27:00 PM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

But what you're bringing up is completely beyond the point of whether the school has the delegated authority to control and restrict the students' behavior, on and off campus. Guardianship doesn't give parents the authority to do anything to their children, but that's totally different from parents willingly placing their children in a private school that forbids a certain extracurricular activity. The parents always have the option of pulling their children out.

Thursday, October 27, 2005 3:23:00 PM  

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