Oregon district’s “sportsmanship and social media” policy the subject of free speech suit

The Oregonian reports that an incumbent member of the Scappoose High School dance team and her mother have filed suit in federal court against the Scappoose School District, the high school’s principal, and the dance team coach seeking to permanently enjoin the school district’s newly adopted “sportsmanship and social media” policy.

According to the suit, the “sportsmanship and social media” policy discusses how good sportsmanship should be extended into students’ use of Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media.  It also includes several restrictions on team members’ use of social media.  The policy includes an agreement that a student “will not participate in any negative comments either verbally or written via social media.”  It also calls for the student to pledge not to post “damaging, incriminating or inappropriate photos of myself or others; to seek prior approval from coaches before posting team videos, photos, results or other information that coaches have not yet released; to refrain from posting “news about another teammate or coach without their consent, including ‘good news.’”

The plaintiffs, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, claim the policy violates their constitutional free speech and due process rights. The suit charges that the policies allow the district and dance team coaches to extend their reach “to every aspect of the students’ and parents’ lives in order to ‘preserve’ the reputation of the Dance Team.”

The student and her mother refused to sign the policy, contending that the policy as written would have forbidden them “from saying anything to anyone, including school administrators, which related to the treatment or experience of students on the Dance Team.”  They also allege the policies would have forbidden the mother and daughter from emailing, texting, or talking on the phone about any aspect of the dance team, regardless of where or when they were communicating.

Source: The Oregonian, 12/17/13, By Helen Jung

[Editor's Note: The legal complaint contains two counts: (1) that the policies violate the plaintiffs' right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment and (2) the policies violate the plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment due process rights because they are unconstitutionally vague. 

In August 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article in Recordnet reporting that attorneys representing the Student Press Law Center asked the Lodi Unified School Board to suspend a controversial social media policy.] 

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