Indiana school officials have improperly disciplined students, on occasion, for behavior outside of school. A bill considered by the General Assembly this year – and wisely rejected – would even have sanctioned the practice. But a Garrett High School seniors case isnt an example of overreaching.
A district has the right and obligation to punish students for misusing school-issued property, just as any employer would do if a worker misused company property. Thats a lesson students need to learn.
Lost in the discussion of Austin Carrolls case is that the Garrett senior used a school-issued computer to post a profane message, even after warnings not to do so. Garrett students and their parents are asked to sign a clearly articulated respectable use policy acknowledging they will use the equipment in a responsible manner.
Superintendent Dennis Stockdale told The Journal Gazette the school has never disciplined and will not discipline students for anything they tweet or post online using their own computers, on their own time and outside the districts network.
The Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools district isnt technologically backward, as the growing blogosphere attention to the case seems to suggest. If school officials there say Carroll was using his school-issued computer to post profane messages instead of posting them overnight from a home computer, thats likely the case.
The small DeKalb County school district has embraced e-learning in a big way. Every student from kindergarten through grade 6 received an iPad last fall; every student in grades 7 to 12 was issued a MacBook. The district is paying great attention to properly integrating technology into instruction and to ensuring that students use the technology appropriately.
By his mothers account, Carrolls brushes with school authority werent limited to what he posted to his Twitter account on a single occasion. School officials appear to have considered his behavior record overall and acted accordingly. Carroll is being allowed to complete his class work in an alternative school and receive a diploma.
A measured response is exactly what school officials should be encouraged to find. House Bill 1169 would have allowed schools to punish students for off-campus behavior, opening the door to all sorts of abuse by overzealous administrators.
Fortunately, the bill was amended to set up a study commission to look at best practices in student discipline.
The Garrett case illustrates how the increasing use of school technology presents entirely new ways for students to misbehave. As the study commission tackles its task, it must take care not to use a shotgun approach to discipline. Every case is different, and each demands a tailored response.