Student's Columbine reference leads to expulsion hearing

ILLINOIS — A17-year-old student at Plainfield South High School who referenced Columbine ina Xanga Web log entry faced an expulsionhearing last week, according to his lawyer.

Attorney Carl Buck saidthe Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 is expected to decidewhether to expel the student at its June 12 meeting. If expelled, the studentwould be ineligible from attending any other public school in the state. Hewould be forced to attend alternative school or seek a private education for hissenior year, Buck said.

The student served a 10-day suspension inearly May for posting a blog on Xanga — a community of online journals forindividuals 13 and older — that criticized school administrators for theexpulsion of another student who had posted an untitled picture of a school inthe district with flames superimposed on top, Buck said.

“Thekids at Columbine did what they did because they were bullied,” read theblog, which was posted on May 2. “In my opinion you are the real threathere. None of us ever put in our xanga’s [sic] that they were going tokill or bring harm to any one [sic].”

In the blog entry, thestudent also makes reference to freedom of speech concerns and asksrhetorically, “Did you every stop to think this will start a communitybacklash?”

Buck said the student has received considerablesupport from students and community members. He called the case a “verystraightforward” freedom of speech issue.

“His complaintis protected speech,” Buck said. “He did it at home, at a homecomputer, on a Web site he can’t access from school. It’s a personalactivity. This is not an expulsion case.”

District spokeswomanCarla Erdey said she would not comment publicly on student disciplinary matters,but provided a written statement dated May 24 claiming the district does not

“monitor student Web sites or seek out online postings by itsstudents.”

“However, when a posting creates a disturbanceto the educational environment, or threatens the safety and security of studentsor staff members,” the statement said, “it is the responsibility ofthe school district to look into the matter.”

Buck attributedthe district’s recent disciplinary actions against student bloggers to anattempt by administrators to catch up to growing technology.

“Technology is always going to be ahead of policy and howgovernment handles technology,” he said.

Attempts to reconcilepolicy with technological growth are not limited to the local or state levels.On May 9, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a billthat, if passed, would prohibit minors from visiting social networking Web siteson computers in public schools orlibraries.

HR5319 would require public schools to monitor students’ online activitiesas well as install technology that would block any social networking Web site orchat room that “may easily access or be presented with obscene or indecentmaterial.”

The bill has upset users who havecreated an online petition opposing banning social networking sites from publicschools and libraries. The petition maintainsthat incidents involving sexual predators on MySpace are “exceptionallyrare” and calls for more education instead of an outrightban.

“Banning social-networking Web sites and forums frompublic schools and libraries is not the answer,” the petition says.

“If Congress is really serious about protecting children, they should begiving public schools and libraries resources to offer safety courses every dayof the week.”

The petition was created by a group callingitself “Friends of MySpace” on May 12 and had 450 signatures as of 4p.m. Thursday.

In other technology news, a school district inLibertyville, Ill., amended its code of conduct last week to include thesentence: “Maintaining or being identified on a blog site which depictsillegal or inappropriate behavior will be considered a violation of thiscode.”

The new policy was added to the district’s codeof conduct for students participating in athletic, fine arts and other studentactivities on May 29. Despite the policy change, district spokeswoman MaryTodoric said the district is not actively monitoring studentblogs.

by A.J. Bauer, SPLC staff writer