NEW JERSEY — An administrator at a private high school has threatened students with suspension unless they erased all personal profiles and blogs from the Internet.
Rev. Kieran McHugh, Principal of Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, N.J. banned students from accessing social networking sites last month such as MySpace.com, citing student safety as his primary concern, according to the Daily Record, a newspaper serving the northern New Jersey community.
Web sites such as MySpace.com allow users to post biographical information and pictures in personal profiles. These profiles help users communicate with others who share similar interests.
“I don’t see this as censorship,” McHugh told the Record. “I believe we are teaching common civility, courtesy and respect.”
The decision angered students who felt the ban infringed on free speech and attempted to control their actions at home, according to the Record.
People who posted messages to a MySpace.com group dedicated to the school voiced concerns over the new policy.
One person claiming to be a student said the school should allow students to continue to use MySpace.com.
“Why is it that private schools think that they have the right to take away a student’s rights,” the user said.
“Schools should only be concerned of 2 things: a student’s education and a student’s safety but only if it is in the boundaries of the school,” the user said. “It is not as if we are doing anything obsene [sic], we are just expressing who we are in a web page.”
Another user claiming to be a student said the school “seems to really be pushing things with the Internet” this year.
McHugh said he believes Web sites such as MySpace.com are fertile breeding grounds for sexual predators to gather information about students, according to the Record.
“If this protects one child from being near-abducted or harassed or preyed upon, I make no apologies for this stance,” McHugh told the community paper.
Free speech advocates have questioned McHugh’s stance.
“It’s an incredible overreaction based on an unproven problem,” said Kevin Bankston, staff attorney for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, to the Record. “If they’re concerned about safety, they could train students in what they should or shouldn’t put online. Kids shouldn’t be robbed of the primary communication tool of their generation.”
—by Kyle McCarthy, SPLC staff writer