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Cyber Misconduct, Discipline and the Law

The Association of California School Administrators is the largest umbrella organization for school leaders in the United States, serving more than 17,000 California educators.

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14 Leadership L ess than a decade ago, school dis- trict technology use policies essen- tially focused on school computer labs and the prohibition of cell phones on campus. Today, as schools inte- grate technology into classroom instruction and school operations, districts are moving quickly to implement policies to encourage digital citizenship throughout the school com mu n it y. One pa r t icu la r cha l lenge school administrators face is determining whether a school district has jurisdiction to discipline a student or employee for cyber misconduct. Typically, it is not difficult for a school district to establish jurisdiction to disci- pline students and employees for cyber misconduct that occurs on campus or from school-based technology. Conversely, the issue of when a school district can disci- pline a student or employee for off-campus cyber speech poses a significant challenge to school administrators. Interestingly, courts have seemingly pro- vided greater speech protections to students for cyber speech than school teachers and employees. Two recent decisions found that a school district overstepped its bounds in disciplining students for cyber speech. In those cases, the courts found that the school district violated student First Amendment rights by disciplining the students, as the cyber speech did not cause a substantial disruption at school and it was not reason- ably foreseeable that substantial disruption would occur. Whereas, a recent employee dismissal was upheld by a court where the cyber speech – which was not viewed by stu- dents – caused the principal to lose confi- dence in the employee as a role model. What the court said In J.C. v. Beverly Hills Unified School District, students made a four-and-a-half minute video af ter school that bullied a By Gretchen Shipley When does a school district have jurisdiction to discipline a student or employee for cyber speech?

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