The law, the web, and education

http://news.yahoo.com/s/usnews/20090612/ts_usnews/wheredoesjudgesoniasotomayorstandonschoolissues

I haven’t written on education lately, and this news tidbit prompted me to do some thinking (BTW, school is out now, and for some of my colleagues, the parents were unreasonably rough on them at the end …)

From what I have read, and this is no shock given President Obama’s political background, Judge Sotomayor tends to lean a bit to the left, politically.  I was happy to see that, given a limited review of her school related rulings, she tends more toward the center or even to the conservative side of the spectrum.

One case in particular that concerns me is one that involves students and electronic media.  We like to think that in this day of facebook and blogs that there is unparalleled freedom of expression, and there is.  For goodness sakes, an ordinary bloke like me had one of my entries linked to Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban’s blog, and was viewed by several hundred people (I can only imagine based on listening to ESPN, that a few of them were members of the media).  It is a strange and weird era we live in … but I digress.

With that freedom, there are a lot of people who unconsciously think that the web is more anonymous because you are not having to look at people face-to-face, and thus can write anything you want, without your conscience telling you to stop.

While adults can be and are as guilty of this as adolescents, adults tend to not be as disruptive to school on the electronic frontier.  There have been a myriad of cases of students posting everything from gossip to out-and-out attacks, to rather scandalous pictures on their blogs, etc.  The students are thinking: “as long as I do this from home, I am immune from school authorities”.

The law has not been looking that way, and even the left leaning Judge Sotomayor has agreed.  One of the cases she joined in the majority with was a case where a student was punished by their school for posting disruptive comments on their blog.  I do not know the nature of these “disruptive” comments (goodness knows, there are some downstate Illinois schools that would likely try and expel a student for posting something like “My principal smells funny”).  But while schools can certainly overreact, not all postings of this nature are so innocent.  The law, more and more, is siding with schools to make reasonable claims against students who are being disruptive (at least non-politically), even if they are doing so from home.

Following along from this, I am not a huge supporter of drug testing students, because I suspect it is a large waste of money.  The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) which governs sports started testing random student athletes who made the finals of their respective sport this year.  Of the hundreds of students they tested, only a handful showed up with positive tests, and most of them were later found to test positive because of legitimate medications they were taking.  The courts have routinely approved this, and while I am against it, I actually support the idea as to why the courts are backing schools:  drugs can put a student athlete at greater risk of injury (or death) during practice or competition (whether we are talking anabolic steroids or cocaine).  If this happens, historic precedent puts the school as a responsible party.  Thus, if the school is to bear responsibility, the school has to be allowed to protect itself, and drug testing could be a means to do so.

The Illinois legislature was considering (and may have already passed) legislation that will permit the IHSA to expand their testing program.  The IHSA claimed the testing program was a success (since they caught next to no one), but I would argue that since most athletes probably don’t use drugs, this just confirmed what we already knew …. while spending a lot of money to do so.  Ironically, the IHSA would certainly not be a responsible party, should an athlete be injured or killed as a result of stress brought on by competition plus drugs.  Why did they get involved?  My guess is that since a majority of the power to legislate within the IHSA is controlled by  small schools which account for under 35% of the total school population, this is a way for those schools to get drug testing without having to foot the bill.

A bit of a rambling mess on this post for sure … but nothing that should get me in trouble (I hope).

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