Rhode Island Affiliate, American Civil Liberties Union


  Monday, March 18, 2013

ACLU Issues Statement on Disciplining of Students Based on Their Tweets

The ACLU is troubled by the actions taken by Warwick school officials against students for tweets they sent to RIDE Commissioner Deborah Gist in response to the controversy surrounding RIDE’s high stakes testing requirement. Without in any way condoning the immature nature of some of the tweets, we believe Warwick school officials have intervened in this controversy in a manner much greater than is appropriate.

It is our understanding that some students were suspended for tweets made during the school day, and that school officials called the parents of other students whose tweets were deemed inappropriate even though they were sent during non-school hours. As for the former students, we are without knowledge as to the specific school policies they are alleged to have violated, so we cannot comment on the propriety of that discipline. But the school superintendent’s involvement with the families of students who tweeted off school property and during non-school hours is a different matter. It is simply not the school’s business what students tweet on their own time where the messages had nothing to do with the Warwick schools, or with students or adults at those schools. Local school officials are not 24 hour a day nannies or Twitter etiquette enforcers.

Some of the tweets we have seen were immature and tasteless, but they remain an exercise of free speech. It is worth noting that they don’t come close to matching the vitriol that one can often see spouted by adults on social media sites. We commend Commissioner Gist for trying to engage in a dialogue with the students who sent those tweets to her, rather than seeking to punish them for expressing, in admittedly very juvenile ways, their frustration with state policy. In line with the Commissioner's response, schools, of all places, should be looking for teachable moments, rather than automatically reverting to punishment as the first reaction to student missteps.

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