Dec 292010
 
 December 29, 2010  Court, Featured News, Youth & Schools

Anyone who knows me will know that I never aspired to be a cheerleader while in high school. While some of my peers were practicing kicks, flips, and waving their pom poms around, I was out organizing political protests and engaged in activities related to civil rights. How ironic, then, that over 40 years later, I would be writing about a case involving cheerleaders in support of their civil rights.

Joe Harris reports:

Two cheerleaders sued a southwest Missouri school district after being kicked off the squad for allegations of cyber-bullying. The cheerleaders say the Seneca school district violated their constitutional rights by booting them off the squad.

No charges were filed against the girls by the Newton County Sheriff’s Department after an investigation into the cyber-bullying allegations, according to the federal complaint.

The girls, identified only as P.A. and K.E., say they have suffered alienation from fellow students and cheerleaders since they were kicked off the cheerleading squad in June this year. They say they “were punished for conduct alleged, but yet not proven in any administrative hearing or court of law, to have occurred off campus and not on school time.”

Read more on Courthouse News.

This issue of whether schools can discipline students for behavior that occurs off-campus has been coming up more and more in the past two years. These cases raise issues about student privacy, the scope of a school’s authority, and issues of whether some conduct is protected speech. In this case:

The district’s attorney, Tom Mickes, told The Joplin Globe that several court rulings have found that extracurricular activities are not protected under the Constitution.

That may be true, but that doesn’t grant public entities such as school districts the ability to deprive children of public education or any benefits thereof based on any “policies” under color of state flag. Is this an “over-reach” of a school district’s authority?

Apart from the due process issues raised in the complaint in this case, what if a school district had a policy that said that students who engage in neo-Nazi groups outside of school are barred from school or participating in after-school clubs because it would create a “hostile” school environment for black or Jewish students? We’d all recognize the First Amendment issue.

Where is the line, if there is one, in determining what extra-curricular activity or speech can be used to deny a child of the full range of opportunities provided by taxpayer dollars-funded public education? Can public education be made contingent on compliance with a school’s “code of conduct” or “policies” applied to extra-curricular behavior if the behavior is not a violation of law?  The complaint does not specify what behavior or “cyber-bullying” the plaintiffs allegedly engaged in outside of school, but if there has been no due process and no criminal charges ever filed, as alleged, on what basis does a district punish a student?

Sooner or later, this issue will get to the Supreme Court.  For now, this is one of the cases I will be watching.