Pennsylvania school's anti-harassment code ruled too strict.
February 16, 2001 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Pennsylvania school's anti-harassment code ruled too strict. The 3rd Circuit Court in Philadelphia struck down the State College Area School District's anti-harassment code yesterday, saying the policy restricted students' free-speech rights.
posted by darukaru (8 comments total)
This is supposed to be a precedent-setting case for Pennsylvania schools, but it's a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it's nice to see a court acknowledge that public-school students do have free-speech rights. On the other, it's a loss for all the picked-on kids out there. Not to get all Hellmouth on you, but I can't think of any institution more destructive to self-esteem and confidence than a public school.
posted by darukaru at 12:29 PM on February 16, 2001

The goals of public schools doesn't seem to be to 'teach kids' anymore, as much as it seems to be to reinforce rules and conformity and 'niceness'. (I'd definitely agree with your 'self-esteem and confidence' statement, darukaru.) Problem is, kids will just find ANOTHER way of harrassing - even if its by something like making up a secret language they can use to point and laugh. And I think people are starting to see that legislating this kind of thing isn't likely to work either. I think that's what part of the 'unruly' behavior that kids are exhibiting is trying to show us. Is there a solution? Well, I think that the whole institution is dying a slow and ugly death, but the sooner we put our focus on the new possibilities and ideas instead of trying to maintain the old system, the more REAL progress we'll see. It's time to let go, methinks.
posted by thunder at 12:44 PM on February 16, 2001

So racist and (hetero-)sexist kids are a symptom of a fucked-up public school system? I'll buy that the institution of public school contributes to the development of such attitudes and behaviors, but there's no way that fixing public education will solve this problem wholesale.

I dont think there's an expectation that legislation will prevent each and every instance of harassment -- the point of a policy like this is to provide recourse for students who need the school to intervene on their behalf.
posted by sudama at 1:46 PM on February 16, 2001

He said that under the State College harassment policy, the two students would be prohibited from expressing their religious beliefs against homosexuality. [from the article]

It seems to me that there's a difference between saying "homosexuality is a sin" and calling someone a "faggot". The latter is harrassment, the former is just ignorance. If the law really would restrict the first statement (which I doubt), I can see that. But, to me, the second statement goes beyond a free speech issue into something that is harmful to another individual, and that's harrassment.
posted by jpoulos at 1:56 PM on February 16, 2001

i take this as a good sign, mostly. even better if they would extend 4th amendment protections against illegal search and seizure, and not suspend students for allegedly putting hexes on teachers. as long as the homosexual students are free to inform the christian kids about the harmful effects of their religion in response, great.

i'm not holding my breath, though.
posted by lescour at 2:34 PM on February 16, 2001

So racist and (hetero-)sexist kids are a symptom of a fucked-up public school system?... Nope. Two different issues, IMO. Everyone has their own belief systems, and many of them appear to conflict with each other. Schools seem to only have one option - try to make everyone play nice - that's just how its set up. ONE solution might be to really teach kids how to deal with their own emotions and thought processes, instead of trying to suppress the ones that some here and there don't like. But, like I said, schools mostly aren't set up to deal with that kind of thing. Times are changing. Suppressing the aggressor is as bad as saluting the victim - they are just two sides of the same coin - one could not exist without the other. But I'm getting a little philosophical here. :-) To summarize - have kids feel their feelings, and find constructive (subjective, I know) ways to express themselves and find themselves, have kids understand their own motivations and how interactions with others come about... there's a lot more behind the end-result of harrassment. It would be great if we could deal with the cause (and find it - heh heh) instead of always reacting to the symptoms. And even EMPOWER the kids instead of just telling them what NOT to do - you know - that kind of thing. Seems like the whole structure of society is shifting around, school systems included... so let's put energy into what we WANT to see in schools instead of reacting against what IS as if that were our only choice. That's more of what I meant. I think. LOL.
posted by thunder at 3:25 PM on February 16, 2001

I herewith supply anecdotal evidence from another school district, one with a "harassment policy" which appears to be as broad as the State College one. The students simply invented new words, assigned those new words mutually agreed upon meanings and began using those words instead of words they were now prohibited from using: "fag," "nigger," "bitch" and "Haitian" (this is a suburb of Miami we're talking here; "Haitian" is not used simply to specify the ethnic background of someone from Haiti - it's virtually a swearword all it's own). These new "words" pass quickly in and out of usage as figures of authority learn their possible definitions... It fazes the teenages of my acquaintance in that school district not at all.
posted by m.polo at 7:43 PM on February 16, 2001

The lesson here is that you can't pass a law making it illegal to be an asshole.
posted by Loudmax at 9:38 PM on February 16, 2001

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