It was five months ago that Lodi Unified School District trustees adopted a strict social media policy to help prevent students from making disparaging remarks about students, teachers and other individuals.
However, the policy didn’t go into effect until the first day of school on July 26. Now, it’s created a firestorm within Lodi Unified.
Four students at Bear Creek High School in North Stockton are protesting the policy, saying it violates their constitutional rights. And members of the drill team and cheerleading squad at Lodi High School have already gotten in trouble.
“At Lodi High, we had very few complaints (last year), but the ones that were brought to our attention were very significant,” Athletic Director Erin Aitken said Monday.
Jana Van Os, whose daughter is a cheerleader at Lodi High School, is frustrated over the lack of oversight within the district. Her daughter was suspended from the cheerleading squad due to a photo of her posted on Instagram, Van Os said. She has since been reinstated.
Van Os said her daughter deleted a photo of herself posted on Instagram during the summer, but someone saved it and sent it anonymously to Lodi High School administrators.
The policy is enforced on a complaint basis only.
“It’s not like we’re the social networking police, but things are brought to our attention,” Aitken said. “I don’t have the time.”
While she agrees that students need to be alerted to the perils of social networking, Van Os said there hasn’t been enough education about the policy to athletes, coaches and parents.
“There are a lot of coaches caught in the middle,” she said.
The new social media policy affects only students who participate in afterschool sports and campus clubs. An informal sampling of Lodi High School students on Monday showed that those not involved in clubs and athletics knew nothing about a social media policy on campus.
District officials said that clubs and athletics are singled out because it’s an activity that schools can take away from a student. Participating in extra-curricular activities is a privilege, not a right, Aitken said. Other students can be punished by the district’s anti-bullying policy.
Bear Creek Principal Bill Atterberry said the objections raised by students on his campus stem from an article published in May by the school newspaper, Bruin Voice.comments from the student article questioned how students can be prohibited from saying or tweeting what they want, Atterberry said.
Atterberry said that Lodi Unified’s attorney approved the wording of the social networking policy; however, students from last year’s Bruin Voice staff hired a lawyer who disagreed with the district’s lawyer.
Van Os said she plans to file a formal complaint about the policy to the school district, and she’s contacted the American Civil Liberties Union for legal advice.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said that Lodi Unified’s language is too vague. There isn’t a lot of guidance on social networking from the courts, Scheer said.
The biggest obstacle to the policy, Scheer said, is that “inappropriate language” can mean anything, and the policy doesn’t define it.
“It could be easy to lie about it by blaming other people for what they said,” Lodi High School junior Catherine Long said.
It’s easy to post disparaging remarks on other people’s Facebook, Twitter or other social media websites, Long said, because students frequently give their password to others. Also, many students know how to hack someone’s computer, she said.
Meanwhile, Lodi High School sophomore Alexus Bunnell supports the social networking policy.
“If you say bad things on Twitter or Facebook, it makes all of us look bad,” Bunnell said.
Atterberry, the Bear Creek principal, said that “liking” (in Facebook lingo) or re-tweeting a negative comment about another student means you’re being implicated.
“It’s like sharing a rumor,” Atterberry said. “It’s like he said-she said. It’s like wildfire.”
Scheer said the policy constitutes sound advice, even if it is vague. He said it would be better for a school administrator to notify the student’s parents of the alleged inappropriate comment or photo and let the parents take action on their child.
Galt and Liberty Ranch high schools don’t have a social networking policy similar to Lodi Unified’s.
“Our current athletic handbook deals with progressive discipline under the school suspension rules,” Matthew Roberts, superintendent of the Galt Joint Union High School District, said in an email. “We do restrict any type of tweeting on our networks, so we more or less make our domain safe for users.”
Tokay High Athletic Director Louis Franklin said that cyberbullying is now the most common form of bullying in today’s society. It has replaced face-to-face confrontations.
“Now it’s done behind a computer screen or cellphone,” Franklin said. “When I was in high school, we weren’t as watched. With Twitter and Facebook, your audience is everyone.”
Van Os said there seems to be no chain of command in enforcing the policy. Coaches, school administration and Lodi Unified officials don’t agree on who is to enforce it.
“There needs to be a chain of command for every policy,” she said.
Franklin said of the district’s policy, “They are operating, in my opinion, in the best interest of the students. I think it was made with good intentions.”
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.