TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: NJ Students Ordered to Take Down Blogs

NJ Students Ordered to Take Down Blogs

Wayne Parry (
Thu, 27 Oct 2005 10:27:22 -0500

By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press Writer

A Roman Catholic high school has ordered its students to remove
personal blogs from the Internet in the name of protecting them from

Students at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta appear to
be heeding a directive from the principal, the Rev. Kieran McHugh, to
remove personal postings about the school or themselves from Web sites
like or, even if they were posted from the
students' home computers.

Officials with the Diocese of Paterson say the directive is a matter
of safety, not censorship. But constitutional experts say the case
raises interesting questions about the intersection of free speech and
voluntary agreements with private institutions.

"There was a student who thought he was talking to another teen, and
that was not the case," said Marianna Thompson, a diocesan
spokeswoman. "Young teens are not capable of consenting to certain
things, especially when they're being led along by adults."

She said the student's online contact did not involve sexual activity,
but such a possibility led school administrators to convene an
assembly for all 900 students about two weeks ago to reinforce the
online rules.

Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Electronic
Frontier Foundation, which champions the rights of bloggers, said
there have been several attempts nationwide by private institutions to
restrict or censor students' Internet postings.

"But this is the first time we've heard of such an overreaction," he
said. "It would be better if they taught students what they should
and shouldn't do online rather than take away the primary
communication tool of their generation."

Thompson said such a ban has been on the books at all four of the
diocese's regional high schools for five years, but is being strictly
enforced now. It does not restrict their Web surfing or writing about
other topics, she said.

McHugh referred inquiries to the diocese.

Students could be suspended if they flout the rules, but no one has
been disciplined in connection with them, Thompson said. A search of
both sites Wednesday by The Associated Press found no postings by
users who mentioned the school.

Profiles posted by other users on the site include photos and detailed
personal information on topics ranging from body measurements to what
kind of music they like, their relationships with family members, and
their sexual history.

Frank Askin, director of Rutgers University's Constitutional Law
Clinic, said the case could be an interesting free speech test if
someone took it to court.

"They are a private school, and they can have whatever rules they
want," he said. "But students do have rights in this matter,
especially in New Jersey. Under our state's constitution, private
entities that exercise some kind of dominion over people have to
respect their free speech rights."

Thompson said parents of students who enroll in the schools sign
contracts governing student behavior, including responsible Internet

"It's not a question of legality or censorship," she said. "This is an
agreement between us and the parents."

That could dilute the students' free speech claims somewhat,
acknowledged Ed Barocas, legal director for the American Civil
Liberties Union of New Jersey.

"The rights of students at private schools are far different than
those of public schools because administrators at public schools are
agents of government," he said. "That's not the case here."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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