Policy could let school officials discipline students at home
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Policy could let school officials discipline students at home

Associated Press | August 17 2005

BLOOMSBURG, Pa. - Students could face discipline by school officials for things they write or say outside school under a new policy, adopted amid intense debate that left one Central Columbia school board member near tears and another predicting costly court battles.

Expression outside school that officials believe "materially and substantially" interferes with school activities can result in discipline, according to the policy.

It would help administrators deal with problems such as a student who threatens another student on a Web site while at home, Superintendent Harry Mathias said.

Board member Joseph Petruncio, who voted with a 5-3 majority in favor of the policy, compared it to rules at his old parochial school.

"You wore your uniform to and from school," Petruncio said. "And if you did anything in that uniform, even out of school, you heard about it the next day."

He said the policy could have helped a student who was verbally harassed and beaten outside of school after allegedly parking in a memorial spot for a dead classmate, and eventually skipped graduation out of fear, noting that the board took no action in that case.

The policy "says we can go a little further and I say we should," Petruncio said, adding that if that results in lawsuits, "I say bring 'em on."

Mathias said most students wouldn't notice the new rules. "It may come up once a year," he said.

But board member Barry Davis said while he considered policing student expression on school grounds justified, he objected to regulating expression at home.

"That smacks of a police state to me," Davis said, predicting that resulting legal action could cost the district millions.

Board members Deborah Creasy and Kathleen Haubert tried unsuccessfully to get the proposal reviewed in committee before it was adopted.

Creasy was nearly in tears as she read a quote saying that rather than falling to outside enemies, the nation was in danger of being "eroded bit by bit from within." She said she had called the American Civil Liberties Union about the proposal. "I hope they respond and nail this policy to the wall," she said.

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