Calif. school district suspends social media policy amid plans to revise

CALIFORNIA — After appeals from students, parents and free speech organizations, a California school district says it will revise its social media contract.

The Lodi Unified School District contract said that students could be punished for any social media post deemed “inappropriate” by administrators, and students who wanted to participate in sports or extracurriculars were required to sign it beginning this school year. Several dozen students have been protesting the policy.

Until the district’s board of education can review a revised policy, “the portion of the policy that sets forth offenses and consequences” has been suspended, according to a statement from Lodi USD Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer issued Wednesday.

Nichols-Washer said that the policy’s original intent was to “educate students on social networking issues and set forth best practices.”

“We will revise the statement in order to clearly communicate the original intent, which was to describe how social networking can lead to consequences at school, as allowed by current law,” Nichols-Washer said.

“Students should be aware that their First Amendment speech rights do not authorize them to bully other students or staff. When the behaviors of students create an unsafe environment within the school’s jurisdiction, the school will take action regardless of where, when, or how those behaviors occurred. Lodi Unified takes the issue of bullying very seriously and will continue to seek ways to address it.”

On Monday, the Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California sent a letter to Nichols-Washer and members of the school board asking them to rescind the policy, which the letter called “draconian and constitutionally infirm.”

Two of the students who were protesting the policy said that they were “shocked” by the district’s decision to suspend the policy but still had concerns.

It’s not clear from the statement what will happen to students who already signed the policy, or to students who missed out on athletic tryouts because they would not sign the policy, said Jacob Williams, a student who read a statement at the board of education’s last meeting to protest the policy. Williams is opinion editor of Bear Creek High School’s student newspaper.

“Definitely there are probably some students scratching their heads, saying ‘I didn’t sign the contract but I wanted to play a sport, and now i’ve already missed the deadline,” Williams said.

Williams said that in addition to revising the policy so that it doesn’t infringe on students’ First Amendment rights, the district needs to make sure students who didn’t sign the contract originally aren’t penalized.

Williams and Zachary Denney, another student who was protesting the policy, both said they’re not ready to declare victory until they’ve seen the new policy, and hope that administrators work with students to revise the language.

“They might come up with something new, but who’s to say it will be better?” Denney said.

Nichols-Washer said the revised policy will be posted Friday with the agenda for the school board’s August 20 meeting. At the meeting, the board will take comments from the public.

Contact Gregory by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 125