Outside of school speech monitoring by schools is legal, but immoral and inadvisable

The line between caution and privacy invasion is a thin one to walk and a dangerous one to cross. As Internet usage amongst teenagers increases, the information which they choose to share online has increasing amount of potential to be harmful to them¬selves along with those around them. Because of the way students treat each other on the Inter¬net, school administrations across the country face the challenging decision of how much they need to be involved. As both a high school student and an Internet user, it is important to me that schools remain to serve as safe places for kids, no matter what events take place off campus.

I do not believe that schools need to monitor all of their students’ Internet behavior, but legally I see no reason why they couldn’t. What the school can see is only what a student has already shared with the world. All the school is doing is accessing public information. It is not different from a student talking in the hallway; someone not part of the intended audience may over¬hear what is said. Schools who do monitor Internet behavior are also not denying students their First Amendment rights. They still have the freedom to say whatever they want.

Despite the legality, I don’t think it’s morally right for schools to constantly watch their students, nor is it practical. In my experience, when I know I’m being watched I get extra-paranoid that I may be doing something wrong. While middle and high school students aren’t always the smart¬est about what they put on the Internet, they still deserve to be able to express themselves without constant fear. The more restrict¬ed students feel, the more resentment they will have towards their administration. More resentment never leads to a peaceful work environment.

The practicality aspect, or lack thereof, seems almost too self-explanatory to share. It is nearly impossible to find each of the ac¬counts that thousands of students run. People rarely use their real name on Twitter; some websites require a password to view and every day, new websites emerge.

In order for schools to observe what their students do outside of their school building, they need to be open and transparent, do the proper research, and know the limits and severity of each situation. These all could be done, but would take an unnecessary amount of time.

For students to feel safe in school, they first must feel trust¬ed by their school administrators. To earn that trust, there are many steps that could be taken. Schools can offer classes or assemblies about cyberbullying, students can share with their parents and teachers what they do online, and if it is necessary, schools can warn students about their ability to see what students put online. By going straight to snooping, schools do not give students the chances they need to be trustworthy or to grow.

Laura Slade won an Excellent Award at the JEA/NSPA National Convention in Boston for this piece.