Calif. school district now considering three potential social media guidelines

CALIFORNIA — A school district scrutinized for asking students to sign a social media contract or forfeit participation in extracurricular activities is now considering three altered versions of what it’s calling social networking guidelines.

Students who wanted to participate in sports or extracurriculars in the Lodi Unified School District this year were told they had to sign the original contract, which was approved by the school board in March and allowed the district to punish them for “inappropriate” online behavior.

Both students and professionals protested the contract, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Student Press Law Center sending letters to the members of the board as well as the district superintendent through Attorney Thomas R. Burke, a partner at the firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, LLC.

The district suspended the policy last week and announced it would consider revisions at its Tuesday meeting. On Monday, the ACLU-NC and SPLC told the district that parts of a revised policy publicized on Friday was still unacceptable.

“While improved, this revised draft remains legally infirm in significant respects, purporting to assert disciplinary authority over speech that, under California law and the state and federal Constitutions is beyond a public school’s ability to punish,” the letter reads.

Two additional revised versions were given to board members Tuesday night. Those versions contain deletions and minor revisions to the section on punishment.

In the second proposal, punishable conduct is changed from “online conduct which is related to school activity or attendance and: 1) substantially or foreseeably disrupts the school environment; 2) is lewd, vulgar or offensive; and/or 3) advocates violence or illegal activity. Such discipline may include suspension from school, or suspension from participation in extra-curricular activities, and/or co-curricular activities” to simply “unlawful online conduct which is related to school activity or attendance.”

The third proposal contains neither of those phrases, though it does state that, “There are many categories of online conduct that, if they relate to school activity or attendance, and if they violate the Education Code and/or Lodi Unified School District rules governing student conduct, may subject a student to discipline by District authorities.” The first and second versions also contain that clause, though the first only says “Education Code or Lodi Unified School District.”

Each of the proposals would apply to all students, unlike the previous policy, which was directed only at students participating in athletics and extracurricular activities.

“No one is expected to sign the guidelines and the guidelines will be sent out to all students once they are approved by the board,” Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Dawn Vetica said in an email Wednesday. “It is unfortunate that what was meant to be an educational tool, has received so much criticism. It was never intended to be a policy and it was never intended to take the rights of students away from them.”

Board of Education member and board clerk George Neely said the board did not take any action Tuesday night and plans to allow the public to comment on the revisions. The next board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 3.

“We still don’t have all the details of this ironed out,” Neely said. “Our objective here is to curtail online bullying, it’s not to infringe on anybody’s rights, and we want to make sure we don’t.”

Zachary Denney, a staff writer for Bear Creek High School’s student newspaper, said he would not want the first version approved because it does not sufficiently clarify the term ‘offensive.’

Denney said he would be fine with the second or third revisions of the document, though he finds them “a little annoying” because he feels they simply repeat what is already law in California.

By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Tirrito by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.