A lawsuit has recently been filed in Oregon against the Scappoose School District by a member of the school dance team and her mother. According to the Oregonian, the student seeks to permanently enjoin the school district from enforcing its newly adopted “sportsmanship and social media” policy.
The policy in question addresses how good sportsmanship should be extended into the students’ use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and includes restrictions on team members’ use of social media. Specifically, the policy includes an agreement that students “will not participate in any negative comments either verbally or written via social media,” and calls for students to pledge not to post “damaging, incriminating or inappropriate photos or others; to seek prior approval from coaches before posting team videos, photos, results or other information that coaches have not yet released; to refrain from posting news about another teammate or coach without their consent, including ‘good news.’”
The student and her mother, backed by the ACLU of Oregon, claim that the school district’s policy violates their constitutional right of free speech. Their suit charges that the district policy allows the dance team coaches to extend their reach “to every aspect of the students’ and parents’ lives in order to ‘preserve’ the reputation of the Dance Team.”
Assuming that this suit goes to judgment, it promises to address the still-developing line between a school district’s ability to police student behavior and set expectations and rules for participation in extra-curricular activities and a student’s right to free speech, especially when away from school. In the meantime, school districts should not be surprised to see pushback and legal challenges when drafting social media policies for students.