US

Fed instructs teachers to Facebook creep students

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

The department’s re-interpretation expands legal risks for schools beyond those set by the Supreme Court in a 1999 decision, said a Dec. 7 NSBA statement. The court decision, which interprets several federal laws, says schools are liable for harassment that school officials know about and that “effectively bars” a student’s access to an educational benefit.

The remedies being pushed by administration officials will also violate students’ and families’ privacy rights, disregard student’s constitutional free-speech rights, spur expensive lawsuits against cash-strapped schools, and constrict school official’ ability to flexibly use their own anti-bullying policies to manage routine and unique issues, said the NSBA letter. The government has not responded to the NSBA letter.

The leading advocate for the expanded rules is Kevin Jennings, who heads the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Jennings founded the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network advocacy group, and raised at least $100,000 for the Obama campaign in 2008, according to Public Citizen, a left-of-center advocacy group. In an September 2010 interview on the government’s StopBullying.gov website, Jennings said that “in a truly safe school … students feel like they belong, they are valued, they feel physically and emotionally safe.”

Ken Trump, a Cleveland-based school-safety consultant, says the administration is so determined to focus on gay and lesbian teens that it is asking Congress for $365 million to conduct bullying-related school surveys in 2012. In 2011, the administration ended a program that gave roughly $300 million per year to states to counter physical violence and drug-abuse in schools.

The primary purpose behind the administration’s initiative is to “create a social and political climate where it is impossible to express conservative moral beliefs” about sexuality, even when research data shows those beliefs help many people live prosperous and happy lives, said Laurie Higgins, the school-advocacy chief of three-person Illinois Family Institute, in Carol Stream, Ill. Everyday experience and careful research show that children are most likely to prosper when they’re raised by their parents, not by school officials and D.C.-based special-interests, she said.

Children do not have any right to bully other kids, gay or straight, to hurt them, taunt or tease them, but they do have a right to speak their minds, and champion their beliefs, said Higgins. Kids learn to treat each other with respect, especially when they and their peers have the ability to hold each other responsible for good, bad or trivial actions, she said.

One of the better things about Facebook, said Higgins, is that it promotes responsible behavior by requiring teens to identify themselves with their real names and pictures. But the kids’ ability to mature into adults will be stymied if the federal government, special-interests and school officials intervene in kids’ conversations about girls and boys, sports and fashion, studies and music, whenever they offer judgements or facts that are disliked by influential political advocates, such as Jennings’ GLSEN, Higgins said. “Kids will be inhibited if they fear their moral reasoning will be seen by others as criminal,” she said.

GLSEN’s advocates strongly support the federal initiative. The Department’s October “guidelines are thorough, comprehensive and list examples in current law to support each provision…. When it comes to bias-based bullying in particular, we have to be willing to name the problem if we want to protect all of our students,” said a Dec. 21 GLSEN statement. Almost 90 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students “experienced harassment in the past year because of their sexual orientation,” according to a 2009 GLSEN survey of more than 7,000 students, said the statement.

Advocates for gays and lesbians say teens who identify as gay or lesbian are four times as likely as normal kids to kill themselves, and they cite multiple examples of teen-suicides following anti-gay statements or physical violence.