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Indiana School District fights for right to be slumber party police

(06/17/11 8:13pm)

In T.V. v. Smith-Green Community School District, a pair of students are suing their school after the school removed them from extracurricular activities because the students posted pictures of themselves with penis-shaped lollipops at a slumber party. In a supplemental brief filed with the federal district court on June 10, the school makes arguments totally irreconcilable with precedent or common sense.


Rhode Island's no-Facebook-in-school ban is redundant and confusing

(06/24/11 10:55am)

Rhode Island’s legislature is poised to put the state atop a list that none should aspire to lead: Most backward in incorporating technology into teaching. In a well-motivated quest to respond to uncivil bullying speech, the Senate gave final passage Thursday to an anti-bullying measure that includes a blanket prohibition on the use of social networking sites on school grounds during school hours. Unless vetoed by Gov.


Keeping secrets from the secret-keepers -- FERPA officially "jumps the shark"

(06/05/11 1:39pm)

Oh, it's so hard not to enjoy this. So let's not even try. For years, school boards and their lawyers have been telling journalists and parents that just about any piece of substantive information they might need is top-secret under federal privacy law and exempt from state public-records statutes. Trends in discipline, statistics about school violence -- you name it, some enterprising school attorney can figure out how to squeeze it into the "black box" that is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Even if there is no legitimate privacy interest at stake, and a compelling public interest in disclosure. Given the spiral of FERPA abuse,  it was inevitable that schools would become so secretive that they'd start concealing information even from themselves. Welcome to Cherokee County, Georgia, which is facing the prospect that a fledgling charter school could face legal action under the Georgia Open Records Act for withholding a roster of its currently enrolled students... From its own school board. You read that right.



Want to catch a movie? You bring the camera, they'll bring the handcuffs.

(06/15/11 12:08pm)

People fully flexing the First Amendment by producing a major Hollywood flick can’t be photographed, according to the City of Fort Lauderdale. Fort Lauderdale police officers arrested a journalist for photographing the downtown building in which a film was being produced. Journalists can’t use the First Amendment to cover a form of free expression?



TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Public record? "It depends on what your definition of 'has' is."

(06/07/11 4:47pm)

People often wonder why the typical public-records request is so convoluted and full of legalese -- instead of asking for "documents," a request generally will ask for something like: "All letters, memos, audiotapes, videotapes, transcripts, emails, calendar entries..." and so on until the thesaurus has been exhausted. The reason is that, if you don't nail down all of the possibilities, a sharp-eyed government lawyer may spot the one tiny omission in your request and respond with a denial that is ultra-literally true but substantively unhelpful  (i.e., "Well, we have time sheets, but we don't have any time cards"). To illustrate, consider the case of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, which was asked under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law to produce the payroll records of a roofing company that was paid for repair work on a campus building.


"Sentenced" to write essay, videographer challenges fairness of UC-Berkeley disciplinary board

(06/08/11 9:06am)

Considering that Josh Wolf had already spent seven months of his young journalistic career in jail, the "sentence" he received for his latest clash with the law might have seemed about as harsh as a Bart Simpson chalkboard apology. Still, Wolf continues contesting the penalty imposed by the University of California-Berkeley for his failure to leave a campus building while videotaping an anti-tuition-hike demonstration in November 2009: A five-page paper analyzing the rights of student journalists on campus and recommending disciplinary policies to avoid First Amendment clashes like the one that landed him in hot water. "It was never about my punishment or my case at all," Wolf said Tuesday, discussing his decision to appeal.


FCC report dramatizes media industry's dependence on student labor

(06/10/11 3:31pm)

While it's uncertain how the American public will get news in the future, and who'll pay the cost of reporting it, it is increasingly clear that the media will rely on unpaid college students not just as trainees but as front-line news gatherers. An exhaustive survey of the media landscape commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission includes among its recommendations that the donor community underwrite "journalism residencies" for new graduates along the model of residencies for newly graduated physicians.


Supreme Court rejects Upside Down First Amendment claim

(06/13/11 5:00pm)

The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected a First Amendment claim by a Nevada lawmaker who argued that the state's conflict of interest laws requiring elected officials to recuse themselves from governance votes on issues where they have a conflict of interest violated his free speech rights. It was an odd, but important case.  In a nutshell, the case involved Sparks, Nev., city councilman Michael A.


Layshock, J.S. and MySpace justice - Third Circuit takes a half-step toward clarifying school authority over online speech

(06/16/11 10:27am)

Young people's near-universal ability to publish online -- anytime, anywhere -- has provoked a flurry of legislative responses and judicial pronouncements, many of them blurring the boundaries that once confined schools' disciplinary authority within the proverbial "schoolhouse gate." Those blurry boundaries are in somewhat clearer focus today as a result of a pair of rulings by the 3rd U.S.



TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Star athletes are big wheels on campus, but whose wheels are they driving?

(06/21/11 5:59pm)

NCAA Division I football players are among the world's most finely conditioned athletes, capable of bench-pressing a quarter of a ton, dashing 40 yards in less than 4.5 seconds, and leaping nearly four feet in the air from a standing start. Signaling for left turns?