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My youngest is a freshman & signed up for a program the school refers to as "co-lab". At my insistence. 2yrs ago, I attended a board meeting where the formation of the program was introduced. At the time, I was jumping out of my skin, I was so excited.it incorporates 5-6 subjects into 1 5-6hr block.

Without getting into the boring details, the bottom line is what they proposed vaguely resembles what is in play. All the subjects are still being taught, but separately instead of seamlessly together.

He has As & Bs in all but 1 subject - Digital Literacy. The sole reason being that the school expects him to create a public Twitter account, with his real information, in order to promote the program & the results of the program. The results being, if I understand correctly, their personality, family history/tree, how their life experiences have shaped them into who they are today. These details were NOT part of the initial proposal nor part of anything sent home to me, to my knowledge.

On 2 separate occasions, during school functions I attended, his reluctance to do this step has come up. He has stated that he does NOT want to create an account on FB or Twitter. He's not comfortable with that. No questions asked, I turned back to the teacher & said - you have your answer. I will not force him to do that.

Yesterday, I received a call from the teacher regarding this, after reviewing his progress report which shows him failing that subject. She explained his failing grade was due to his resistance in creating the acct. He tried to compromise with them & created a fake acct using a nickname a teacher had given him in 8th grade. (HE informed me of that, not the teacher). During the call, not knowing he had attempted that already, I suggested that as a compromise. But they won't accept that. Their claim is that it needs to be seen by the public, he needs to create a digital footprint, yadda, yadda.

When asked how this would affect his grades in the other, now separate, subjects, she could not give me an answer. This class is ONLY available for a freshman. It will have nothing to do with his next 3yrs of education. Yet his information will forever be out there even if never utilized or deleted after. There's a parallel story to this which has bugged me, but this is the crux of THIS situation.

My question is, is this public school allowed to force him to create a digital footprint on an already worldwide controversial platform, POSSIBLY holding his entire freshman year over his head? At the very least, forcing him to retake the one class, which may end the same way?

Given the current environment, I'm one pissed off Mama bear. And he's ready to cave to the bullies, something I drilled into both my boys to never do.

Thoughts?

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    It seems your kid exhibits far more digital literacy than all others involved – Hagen von Eitzen Dec 15 '19 at 12:31
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    This is insane, I would say that refusing to create an account on these platforms actually proves some digital literacy, which the teacher apparently lacks. I think the lawyers of Electronic Frontier Foundation might be very interested in this case: eff.org – JohnEye Dec 15 '19 at 13:14
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    Take this to the school administration first. if you don't get a satisfactory resolution there, take it to the school board. – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Dec 15 '19 at 19:15
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    This may also be in violation of Twitter's policies, depending on if help.twitter.com/forms/parental_consent applies. – user2943160 Dec 15 '19 at 19:47
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    One of the most important lessons to learn in digital literacy is that what you post is there forever, so it is important to think carefully about what personal information, if any, you post. You can still see material I wrote 30 years ago. The kid seems to understand this, and the school does not, so he is way ahead on digital literacy. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 16 '19 at 3:11
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You say:

the school expects him to create a public Twitter account, with his real information, in order to promote the program & the results of the program.

This is a cut-and-dried case of compelled speech. Your son is being required to say certain things in public in order to pass this course.

The Supreme Court has decided that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate". This is subject to the legitimate interests of the school, but it is hard to see how compelled speech on Twitter can be defended as a legitimate interest.

You also say this is to "promote the program and the results of the program". It sounds like the students are being required to say certain things about the course. If your son were to create the account and then post only material critical of the school, such as complaints about compelled speech, would that result in a passing grade? It sounds like it might be an issue.

Compelled speech at school was considered by the Supreme Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), which is the case about students being required to salute the flag. They found that requiring students to salute the flag was unconstitutional.

Public education, according to the Court, should “not strangle the free mind at its source [or] teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.” Instead, education should enable students to make informed choices about what to believe.

From the judgement itself:

the refusal of these persons to participate in the ceremony does not interfere with or deny rights of others to do so. Nor is there any question in this case that their behavior is peaceable and orderly. The sole conflict is between authority and rights of the individual.

That is very much the case here. Your son's refusal to make the required public speech is not causing any difficulty for the school authorities.

In conclusion, your son has made a decision not to create a Twitter account under his own name and say certain things within that account. This is entirely his constitutional right.

You might consider contacting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who have a history of engaging in cases like this. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) might also be interested.

Edit:

Zack Lipton in comments below makes the point that much student work can be considered a kind of compelled speech (e.g. "Write an essay on Hamlet" or "Submit an entry to this poetry competition") and asks how this is different. Its a good question, and I have to say it does suggest that there is a difference of degree rather than kind. However I would argue that posting to an international forum widely used by adults is a different matter to a school assembly, or even a national essay competition. It would also depend a great deal on what has to be posted to get a passing grade.

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    @Matt Quite possibly, given that students are routinely required to engage in a variety of speech, including some speech of a public nature (write for the school paper, exhibit in a science fair, submit to an essay or poetry contest, etc...) as part of their assignments, and most assignments do not require students to endorse specific beliefs. If students are being compelled to tweet out a salute to the flag, then I can see the direct relevance, but otherwise, this answer seems to say with clear certainty that the assignment is unconstitutional when that seems broadly unsupported. – Zach Lipton Dec 16 '19 at 3:37
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    @ZachLipton A school has a legitimate interest in requiring a student to write a paper analyzing Hamlet. A school doesn't have a legitimate interest in forcing students to salute the flag. This case, where students are being forced to promote the school on Twitter, seems to me to be a lot closer to the later than the former. It don't think it really matters that they're being force to "salute" the school rather than the flag, and the fact they're being forced to do it publicly on Twitter only makes it more dubious. – Ross Ridge Dec 16 '19 at 3:45
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    @Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica: The bigger problem seems to be here that they are requiring not merely that the student post material, but that they are requiring the posting of personal information - esp. "personality, family tree , etc.". It seems like compelling a violation of rights to privacy. Could a case be made regarding that? – The_Sympathizer Dec 16 '19 at 11:40
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    "I have to say it does suggest that there is a difference of degree rather than kind." Compelling a student to write an essay on Hamlet and compelling a student to publicly proclaim their name, the school they attend, their family history, and that they enjoyed reading Hamlet are differences in kind. – JackArbiter Dec 16 '19 at 16:14
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    As a techie, I'd also argue that creating an account on a public service as a requirement is pretty much the opposite of what such a course should teach -- the goal is for participants to be able to give meaningful consent to the use of their data, which means having the necessary knowledge to read a privacy policy and estimating the trustworthiness of a service before interacting with it. – Simon Richter Dec 16 '19 at 17:25
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I think some of the answers are good but taking a long approach.

Much easier approach:

Student: "I can't do the assignment."

Teacher: "Why?"

Student: "Twitter won't let me sign-up"

Teacher: "Why?"

Student: "I don't agree to their Terms of Service"

Teacher: "You have to agree to it to use the site and will need to do that to pass"

Student: "Will you or the school be liable when my information gets hacked or I lose opportunities due to an issue on the site. If so I need a contract that shows you are forcing me to sign a TOS I do not agree to and a remedy for issues."

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    So what should the student (and parent) do if the school neither agrees to the contract nor gives a passing grade without a Twitter or Facebook account? – Patricia Shanahan Dec 16 '19 at 18:40
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    @PatriciaShanahan - A student can't be required to do an assignment they do not have access to. That is clearly defined by all school districts and they teacher would be punished if they had a grade associated with it. The student is giving the teacher the ability to act and the teacher in theory could get a contract through the district to help the student bypass TOS. – blankip Dec 16 '19 at 18:45
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    @PatriciaShanahan Keep pushing the issue. Bring it up with the principal. Bring it up with the school board if that doesn't work. Obviously, the parent shouldn't just do nothing. – user428517 Dec 16 '19 at 21:01
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    If the school's lawyers are not a bag of hammers, they'll know precisely what huge can of worms this is and tell the school to back off. Schools do not want to sign themselves up for life-time liability, which is exactly what this is doing. – Nelson Dec 17 '19 at 1:53
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    Interesting thought I had, but the TOS is a contract... as a minor, the legal guardian must sign the contract for him, which the school is not... They still need a permission slip for field trips, right? Just another avenue to explore. – hszmv Dec 17 '19 at 13:06
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I would suggest reaching out to the ACLU in addition to the EFF on the matter as the school could be in violation of multiple constitutional rights by compelling the student's participation on Twitter. There are two notable First Amendment violations, the first in the government compelling speech in the public forum with his personal information available (which can lead to doxing if he says something that offends the collective internet sensabilities. There are too many numerous cases of people who have had their lives destroyed because Twitter users found their comments worthy of attacking) as well as a violation of Freedom of Association (That is, the right to engage or not engage in activities with a group of people for any reason the individual sees fit. Your son's right to not want to expose his life's information to a private company is not something the government should be punishing him for). Additionally, there is a possible violation of 4th Amendment rights against search and seziure and to be secure in one's "papers". Simply put, if your son wants to put his personal information out there, he can do as he so pleases, but the government should not be allowed to force him to expose information about himself that he does not wish too with out due process of law i.e. a warrant.

And I use Government instead of school because it does not matter what government entity it is that is requiring this, these are several serious violations of Constitutional Freedoms and Rights. And the natural argument to 4th Amendment rights of "It will only matter if he has something to hide" are not true. Just because you are innocent, you do not give this right up... in fact, because you are innocent, you need them to protect against the guilty party. Any actions adverse to the constitution by any government official from the highest offices of the Federal Government to the lowliest teacher in a public school should not be permitted to stand. I would talk to the lawyers and prepair your son for the failing grade... the fight ahead is going to provide more education benefit than just making a Twitter account ever will.

(And while I'm in no position to say for certain, I'm inclined to believe an otherwise straight A student with a good essay on "Why I failed my twitter class" will impress a good deal of college admission's experts when it's about a case defending one's civil liberties.).

I would also recommend reaching out to local news media, especially educational news reporters to mount some public pressure on the school system. There are also some online journalists that would definately be worth looking into. (I personally recommend Youtuber Tim Pool (channel is the same name and along with a second channel called Tim Cast), who has a specialty in tech related news, especially along these lines.

Above all else, you need to let your son know that whether or not he caves in, you will not hold any failing grade in this course as a mark against him. He's clearly trying his hardest to work with the school and is not the unreasonable one here. If he wants the fight, then fight for him... but if he doesn't there is no shame there either. There comes a point in every child's life where his parents can no longer lead him to the right choice, but only follow him to the choice he makes.

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    Also, if there are forcing them to do work in an effort to get advertising, isn't that counter to some sort of forced labour laws? They're literally forcing students to be the program's social media team for free. – Shane Dec 16 '19 at 20:13
  • @Shane: Arguably... I would still work with "Feedom of Association" though a social media team could be interesting, I'm not sure if that's what the course qualifies as (Social media teams would make updates to corperate or government owned accounts... most elected officials don't write there own tweets... or even know how to log into twitter for that matter) so that's good evidence. If it's this kind of role, it could be a possible 13th Amendment violation (Slavery) but I think it's rather weak. – hszmv Dec 16 '19 at 20:19
  • +1 for the college admissions application of the issue – awsirkis Dec 18 '19 at 5:00
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This will be a very likely legal victory, but a potentially hard legal path. This is wrong for a bunch of factors. The downside is there's a lot of interesting legal exploration to do here, and some "new law" has a chance to emerge (i.e. influential case law), and it would take years to litigate it all. The good news is, you only have to win on one arm of what I'm about to say, and it's so obvious I would expect a quick judgment.

Social media is a very serious commitment

If you sign up under your real name, everyone who knows you will link you. Then, they will expect you to interact - react to their posts, talk to them in private messaging, accept real-world party invitations on-platform -- and do so timely, or their feelings will be hurt and they will distance from you in-real-life.

Unless you are very careful, they will see sides of you that you never meant to expose, like your keyboard personality and your politics. You should certainly expect social media to change/damage your long-term friendships. The platforms are also engineered to be addictive. To be competent on social media is a serious time/life commitment. Quitting social media is awkward and creates social problems all its own.

The problem is, the teacher is prescribing a commitment far beyond the scope of the class. Beyond classmates, beyond class time, and effectively creates a public exposure and life commitment for the student.

Saying this is going to get me downvoted by those who are inculcated into those social media platforms, but deny how entwined they are, or see only the positives. I suspect the teacher of the class is one of them, and is oblivious to these impacts. The school may be run by a clique of these people.

Is it responsible to oblige a child into social media?

The law rules that a 14 year old is not competent to make significant and irreversible life decisions. Now, it's true lots of people just play fast and loose with social media, and that's ... up to them and their parents. But given all the stuff I mentioned in the last section, there is a material question of fact as to whether such conduct is responsible, or good parenting.

It seems to me that it is axiomatic that the parents have not only the right, but the parental duty to guide such an impactful decision. Or to be more precise, "no social media for my child" is an entirely reasonable parenting decision.

For the school to oblige the student onto social media, they are tearing that decision out of the hands of the parents. Schools do that all the time for decisions like "Shall the child be taught of the existence of the US Civil War", or "shall the child be forced to learn New Math methods." But the decision to join social media is a big one.

The Right of Privacy of the student and family

Not everyone wants to be a Kardashian; not everyone chooses to be in the public eye. The legal system has struggled with "the right of defining your own level of notoriety" for a long time. By "levels" I mean someone being forced from a private person to a social media presence; not someone seeking fame/already famous from becoming more famous (though managing the nature of your publicity is also recognized by the courts).

The problem here is that the student is being compelled into a public presence that is unwanted.

That might make sense if the crux of the coursework was to do that, i.e. if the class was an elective course about public presence in social media. However, it looks like a broad, all-in or all-out program of which social media is only a facet. And clearly, the requirement wasn't disclosed in advance.

There's also the genealogy issue. Now you're publishing information about other people, which opens other cans of worms. Not least, those others have no legal recourse against a minor; that would fall against the parents!

Forced speech

Obviously schools get to force some speech: they can make you do your homework! However, this is normally confined to the student-teacher relationship, or at worst the class at large. However, this is NOT on-point.

Because here, the forced-speech is public in a novel way -- on social media. It invites interactions with outsiders (another thing you don't normally have in a class, and remember, the school has no ability to curate this public response, and they may have a responsibility to curate what is presented to a 14-year-old as pat of classwork). And it involves establishment of a public persona. In that light, the question of forced speech needs to be revisited given that existing case law won't fit it.

Irreversibility of an entry to social media

One doctrine in the courts, actually codified in Europe, is "the right to be forgotten".

The child always has the option to forego social media for now and join it later. However, one cannot unring the bell; one can't simply fade and be forgotten off social media, especially if someone has done something infamous.

Consider the "Cash me ousside" girl, who self-annihilated on Dr. Phil's TV show. Most future employers would find out about this and terminate the woman on the spot, for cause. The girl was 13 years old. The mother probably made a bad decision to consent to this, but the girl (legally) had no possibility of understanding the consequences of the actions, so obviously, no means to consent.

The law simply does not recognize an idea that a 13-year-old is fully responsible and should pay the price indefinitely for youthful indiscretions. The entire juvenile justice system is built around this notion. The EU has codified it in the "Right to be forgotten". So this is a gory mess legally. As it happens, this child, has chosen to monetize the bad girl image and monetize it, but was it really a choice? What other options exist? The reputation is inescapable. The parent and Dr. Phil should've foreseen that.

Legally, this is a gory mess. Who is responsible? Will Dr. Phil or the mother assure the grown woman an income? It's practically turned into a science fiction story.

So what happens when a child in this program makes a mistake that places them in infamy, with blowforward 10, 20, 30 years into their future, again from a child's mistake? Who's liable for that? The parents for consenting? Is it really consent if the alternative is to fail the student? The school for requiring? Are the school's lawyers as good as Dr. Phil's? In things like this I often figure "whose lawyer would I rather be" - not the school's.

5

I have personal experience dealing with something similar.

What I found was that the school district has policies, which are usually drafted from a boiler plate (which often originates from a subscription service) and then perhaps tweaked before being adopted by the Board of Education.

There is generally an IT consent form (e.g. “Student Acceptable Use Agreement”) which parents are asked to sign. Parents sometimes don't notice that they are signing it, or what it says. Some school districts are a bit sloppy about getting it signed.

However, a parent can write a letter or email at any time in the school year stating that they do not consent for their student to ______ (fill in the blank). What I did: I withdrew my consent for my son to use a computer in school, or to use Google for Education for his classwork or homework. I requested that pencil and paper alternative assignments and classwork be given to him instead.

(I did this because my son's diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder was leading him to spend the school day surfing the internet, which was distracting him from doing any academic work. I had previously tried to get better filtering and better supervision but had failed.)

Example of such a Board of Education policy: http://www.millard.k12.ut.us/images/bofe/policy/Article5/5150.pdf

  • P.S. As long as the child isn't penalized (e.g. not allowed to go on a field trip) and as long as he isn't scolded or mistreated or given a guilt trip, I would suggest letting go of the tug-of-war rope. That is, stop going to the maddening meetings, and just instruct the child to go read a book, do other homework, or go to the library during Twitter time. It's not the end of the world to fail one subject. I've found that the more the parent tugs on the rope, the more they dig their heels in. – aparente001 Dec 18 '19 at 5:25
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A school district can have a policy requiring students to sign up for computer accounts of some ilk. There is no constitutional right to be free of Twitter. Schools have broad latitude to require students to do things that some parents do not like, in aid of some stated educational goal. Generally, your recourse is political (lobby against the program, vote them out of office, etc). If a reasonable person would find it offensive to reveal the level of personal detail that has to be exposed under this program, you might have a case for a lawsuit, but it is not clear that that is the case here. The problem is that the notion of what a reasonable person would accept or be shocked at is defined in terms of current social custom, and "sharing" is expected behavior. Most legal attention to social media accounts and individual rights are about resisting requirements to hand over passwords of existing accounts. You might consult with your local ACLU to see if they think there is any hope of resisting this requirement. The best bet is that this could be unconstitutional compelled speech.

Another consideration is that, by a possible reading of what they are requiring, they (or their proxy, Twitter) are requiring releasing student records without consent, in violation of FERPA. But that is not an obvious interpretation of what the FERPA restrictions say.

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    There is also no constitutional right to force someone else to join and actively participate in Twitter and/or Facebook. An agreement, through coercion, would be void. – Mark Johnson Dec 15 '19 at 13:26
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    Does the state law give school officials the right to force someone else to join and actively participate in Twitter and/or Facebook. Because if it doesn't or that law conflicts with a higher law, then the school official is committing an illegal act. That is here the issue. The child is going to school, so that aspect is not the issue. – Mark Johnson Dec 15 '19 at 16:04
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    @user6726 This is compelled speech by a government entity, using its coercive power to make children attend school to make them say other things the government wants them to say. This almost certainly violates the Constitution. See West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (319 US 624, 1943). – David Schwartz Dec 15 '19 at 23:34
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    @MarkJohnson Individuals have rights, governments have powers. So you should say, "There is also no constitutional power to force someone else to join and actively participate in Twitter and/or Facebook." – Just a guy Dec 15 '19 at 23:45
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    And yet on a daily basis, children's First Amendment rights are violated by compulsory education laws. Turns out the First Amendment is not absolute, it can be subordinated to a "compelling government interest". As I mentioned, one might try the compelled speech route, but so far, the courts do not support your claim that this is a violation of the First Amendment. – user6726 Dec 16 '19 at 21:09

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