Hyde Park School District Censorship sign now

There are many troubling issues that arise from the notice you recently sent home promising consequences for student internet conduct. Franklin D. Roosevelt High School is a public high school, and as such is a branch of the state. Its purpose is to provide education, not to create or enforce any laws, and certainly not to decide what is or is not socially unacceptable and inappropriate. No government entity is entitled to decide for Americans what is right or wrong when it comes to speech, and there are very few legitimate reasons to place restrictions. Threats of violence, and speech meant to incite illegal activities are banned for good reasons. Similarly, the line between free speech and harassment is clearly defined, and it is crossed only when speech evolves to physical expression. Verbal harassment, as it is addressed in your letter, is nowhere in the NYS Consolidated Penal laws- such a law would be unconstitutional.

The language of the first amendment is intentionally ambiguous to act as an umbrella for all speech. However, the ambiguous language of the letter you sent to students is meant only to scare them into playing nice with each other, while leaving enough room for you to hide if someone questions the legality of your statements, or if it actually came time to act on them. It is quite reckless that you, as the leader of the school, a role model for children, and acting as an agent of the government so casually mix the downright laughable phrase socially unacceptable statements and the very serious issue of physical threats in the same paragraph. The uninformed reader might be lead to believe that it is within your power to deal with both these issues. While its true the Supreme Court grants educators additional powers when it comes to dealing with speech, a school doing so must act in good faith, and only when the schools educational mission is directly being compromised. Extending this power to an online message board that isnt accessible in school is a gross misinterpretation of your powers.

Justice Fortas wrote in his Tinker v. Des Moines ruling that It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.. Certainly these rights remain with the student when they leave those same doors, and log onto the internet at home. For us to accept the stretching of the schools responsibility to educate into justification of censorship of what students say to each other twenty four hours a day opens the door to dangerous new possibilities. As the twenty-first century unfolds, we are constantly faced with the necessity of reaffirming the rights our country has fought to protect. This intrusion is something we as Americans must not allow, and I urge you to redefine your stance.

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Jeffery AbbottBy:
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Mr Gonzales, Principal, Franklin D. Roosevelt High School

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