I was not too pleased about the outcome of the "Bong Hits for Jesus" case, but it did seem to be an edge case. If students had walked across the street from the school, during school hours, at a school sponsored event and unfurled a banner that said "Niggers go home," many people might feel differently about whether or not the school should be able to enforce their disciplinary policies.
But Andy Carvin reports on a new lower court ruling that cites the Bong Hits case as precedent and seems to go way beyond it. It strikes me as extreme enough in its implications that there is a good chance it will be overturned, so I don't want to completely evacuate my bowels, but it is definitely cause for alarm.
Basically, a seventh grader used an AIM icon in chatting with his friends that encouraged killing his English teacher. This eventually got back to the teacher, and the kid was ultimately suspended for a semester. Here's a quote from the decision:
[I]t was reasonably foreseeable that the IM icon would come to the attention of school authorities and the teacher whom the icon depicted being shot… and the risk of substantial disruption is not only reasonable, but clear. These consequences permit school discipline, whether or not Aaron intended his IM icon to be communicated to school authorities or, if communicated, to cause a substantial disruption. As in [the Bong Hits 4 Jesus ruling], the student in the pending case was not disciplined for conduct that was merely “offensive,” or merely in conflict with some view of the school’s “educational mission.”
My question is, what if I use "Bong hits for Jesus" as my status message at home, with my friends? Haven't we now established that that phrase is in conflict with a school's educational mission, and that messages used in private IM chats off-campus can be the basis of disciplinary procedures?
Even leaving aside the first amendment implications, this would seem to make life impossible for schools. I mean, leaving technology out entirely, if two students in the same class get in a fight, and one of the students' parents insists that the students be put into different sections, then couldn't that fight be cited as a substantial educational disruption (because the school had to rearrange class rosters), violation of the student code of conduct, etc., and subject to disciplinary action at school? And once you say "schools may discipline students for doing X," then it often seems a short walk to "schools are exposing themselves to a lawsuit if they don't discipline students for doing X."
This is a recipe for chaos, repression, or both.