“This will go down on your permanent record.” Since the invention of file folders, these words have been used to scare school children. A grade school disciplinary record may not seem very serious, but as school districts start to track students throughout their academic careers, as charter and magnet schools become more and more popular and as competition for a limited number of slots in top programs increases, just ask today’s parents to rate the importance of their child’s “clean record.”
By the same logic, just as technology has made it easier for the past to follow students as they age, it has also created a new virtual schoolyard in which conflict can take place. In recent months, a student at a Denver Metro area elementary school posted an insulting comment about a classmate on her Facebook page. The post occurred during winter break from the student’s home computer. The classmate read the comment and when school started again in January, she confronted the student. The ensuing shouting match at recess drew the attention of school administrators, who subsequently suspended the 5th grader. What did she write that earned her a one-day suspension? That her classmate’s feet “smelled like poo.” Tasteless, maybe, but unquestionably protected speech, particularly since they were posted off school grounds and while the school was not in session.
After receiving a letter from ACLU Staff Attorney Taylor Pendergrass, the school agreed to clear the student’s record and inform her parents of their decision. She has still has a shot at Harvard after all.
Taylor Pendergrass , ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney
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