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High school journalists are covering misconduct allegations at their schools

 

Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel for the Student Press Law Center, put it best and simplest: "As a student journalist, it’s your job to figure out what the news is, and cover it."

There's no question that misconduct by teachers and other school employees is newsworthy, and high school journalists are putting in the work to investigate these stories.

Students have broken stories about an administrator who lied about their qualifications to get a job, a guidance counselor with multiple counts of unprofessional conduct, and a teacher who was fired for allegedly sending inappropriate texts to a student. 

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, SPLC also received a huge increase in inquiries to our legal hotline from students looking for guidance on how to responsibly cover the sensitive topic of sexual misconduct.

So we were thrilled to see this story from Columbia Journalism Review highlighting some of the high school journalists reporting on misconduct allegations of school employees. This is exactly the kind of student journalism SPLC exists to help protect.

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Q: Can the principal of my school suspend me for a social media post on my private account during non-school hours? 

A: Probably not, but there is reason to be cautious about this type of behavior. There was a time when the line between on- and off-campus activities was clear. And generally so was the law. Back then, the authority of school officials typically ended with the school bell when students physically left school grounds. But times have changed and the lines are fuzzier. A social media post sent from one’s bedroom at midnight has no real, physical boundary and some courts have allowed school officials, particularly in cases where the speech is particularly offensive or harmful, to punish students for their off-campus speech where it has a direct, serious and foreseeable negative impact on those in school. In those cases, the defense that ”I wrote this under my covers” didn’t fly. That said, there continues to be an ongoing, important debate about how the exact lines should be drawn and who should enforce them.

 

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