The general assembly in Indiana is considering a bill, HB 1169, that would extend the ability of administrators to punish student off-campus speech. As Student Press Law Center executive director (and my boss) Frank LoMonte summarized on the SPLC's blog:
House Bill 1169, pushed by the special-interest lobbyists for school administrators, would unleash school principals to control essentially anything their students do -- anytime, anywhere -- that they disapprove of.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, would let public schools suspend or expel students who do or say anything that may "reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function," even on a Saturday at the shopping mall.
You can read more about the Student Press Law Center's take on this bill there, but as you can imagine, we're not really thrilled with it, given that we encounter abuses of administrative authority pretty regularly. Besides, given how poorly Indiana schools deal with in-school bullying, the idea that they want to police outside-of-school bullying is laughable.
But that's not what this blog is about. I want to call special attention to the statements made by John Ellis, the executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. In short, the lobbying group that never met a superintendent it couldn't defend.
"Because many threats and intimidating behaviors are now passed through technological means, the current student discipline statutes which speak to 'unlawful' activity are outdated," Ellis said. "This bill stands up for student rights regardless of where the violation of student conduct rules originated."
Of all the dishonest things I've heard lobbyists say, this one may take the cake. Asserting that a bill extending state authority to punish students with no limits whatsoever is a victory for student rights bends reality to the breaking point.
First of all, you don't stand up for student rights by punishing them. The bill has two remedies: suspension and expulsion. It doesn't even contemplate education, working with parents or the community, or any other remedy. To assert that a bill that subjects students to additional disciplinary action defends their rights is asinine. If this is a student rights bill, then the PATRIOT Act was a privacy protection law.
And the idea that expulsion will remedy cyberbullying is stupid, even for a superintendent. Your solution to students being mean on the computer is to send them home to their computer. Where they'll have more time online and they're angry because they got punished. Yeah, I'm sure that'll work out fine. It's not like bullies ever take out their anger on someone else or anything.
Second, students already have people who are supposed to be in charge of what they do at home. They're called parents, and they're far more competent to do that job than your superintendents, who have spent the last hundred years twiddling their thumbs while jocks shoved nerds in the bathroom. Now, in 2012, apparently these same bullying enablers have developed an overriding concern with what students do in their bedrooms. If, for some reason, I thought parents needed government employees to oversee what their kids do at home, I'd pick someone with a better track record.
This bill has no provision whatsoever for involving parents in this process except to tell them when their child is being disciplined. Is that really the first a parent should hear about cyberbullying? If this bill was remotely about the rights of students, and not giving superintendents the right to do anything they feel like anytime they feel like it, wouldn't that have been a useful component to consider?
Third, if you want to defend this regressive, anti-student, anti-parent, anti-education, absurd overreach of the nanny state, you might want to come with some metrics to support the idea that this won't be abused. I noticed in the hearing that you had no idea how many students are expelled statewide, or how many of those expulsions are successfully appealed, if any. You've done so well in creating this system where superintendents are immune from any kind of accountability that you don't even bother identifying if any superintendent, anywhere in Indiana, has ever made a mistake. And you want to increase the reach of that unchecked authority, which shouldn't even exist in the school building, into the living rooms of the families of Indiana.
Hey, I've got an idea: let's pass a bill letting us send superintendents who interfere with the rights of parents on a slow boat to a communist country where they'll feel more comfortable. I'll call it the Defending Superintendents Rights Bill. What do you think?