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Lodi Unified School District suspends social networking policy

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Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 5:04 pm

The Lodi Unified School District has temporarily suspended its controversial social networking policy until the board of trustees can adopt a new policy.

A revised policy governing student use of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media will be proposed at next Tuesday’s school board meeting. The new version to be submitted to the school board will be available for public review at 5 p.m. Friday.

“We will revise the statement in order to clearly communicate the original intent, which was to describe how social networking can lead to consequences at school, as allowed by current law,” Lodi Unified Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer said in an email.

District officials have come under fire after a Lodi High School parent and several Bear Creek High School students sought legal advice. San Francisco attorney Thomas Burke, in a letter to the district on Monday, threatened to sue Lodi Unified unless the district clarifies the policy or abandons it altogether.

Burke, representing the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Student Press Law Center, claims that the existing policy, adopted by Lodi Unified trustees in March, violates the First Amendment.

Burke said that the existing policy is unclear in stating who decides which social networking comments are deemed “inappropriate.”

The existing policy covers only student-athletes and others involved in extracurricular activities. These students can be suspended from their team or club if they send comments or photos via electronic media that are critical or threatening of another student, teacher, other school employees or other individuals.

“Students should be aware that their First Amendment speech rights do not authorize them to bully other students or staff,” Nichols-Washer said. “When the behavior of students create an unsafe environment within the school’s jurisdiction, the school will take action regardless of where, when or how those behaviors occurred.

“Lodi Unified takes the issue of bullying very seriously and will continue to seek ways to address it,” Nichols-Washer added.

Bear Creek High School student Zachary Denney, one of several from the North Stockton school to question the current policy, said he was disappointed that students weren’t consulted regarding a revised policy, as requested by Lodi Unified trustees Bonnie Cassel and George Neely.

“You saw the two (board) members ask if we’d be willing to work with them for a solution,” Denney said in an email to the News-Sentinel. “Sadly, I have to report back to you that we have heard nothing from the board, and we’re a little disappointed.”

School board president Ralph Womack praised district administrators and trustees for their flexibility in changing the policy’s wording. However, he said, students need to be protected from inappropriate and threatening comments on electronic media.

“Someone has to speak up for the kids being bullied,” Womack said.

Denney said his Bear Creek classmates will study the new policy proposal.

“On Friday, when the district reveals the revisions, we will have our attorney look at it and report back to us what he thinks,” Denney said. “Hopefully, the district will come out with a proper revision, but if they don’t, we will have to go further.”

Tokay High School students have been less vocal about the social networking policy than those at Bear Creek, but Tokay journalism adviser Roger Woo said students have had concerns about the policy as well.

“I thought it would open a huge can of worms,” Woo said. “Kids don’t lose their rights when they step on campus.”

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