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After Newtown, Students' Online Postings Bring Disciplinary Action

Perhaps it was inevitable in our social media-saturated age, but in the week following the shootings in Newton, Conn., leaders in several districts around the country were forced to quell rumors of future violence posted by students on various online sites.

The content of those online postings reportedly ranged from talk of actual violence to more half-baked musings (about the world coming to an end in accordance with the Mayan calendar, for instance).

But in the shadow of the Newtown tragedy, many school and law enforcement officials are clearly not of the mind that they can take any chances.

The incidents included a 17-year-old Ohio student getting arrested and led from the school in handcuffs after reportedly saying on Twitter that he would take actions similiar to those in Newtown, according to the the Springfield News-Sun.

In Washington state, a high school student in the Chehalis School District was "emergency expelled" after allegedly posting threatening material on Facebook, according to the Chronicle, in Lewis County. The decision means the student won't be allowed to return to school until a disciplinary hearing is held, the school's superintendent told the newspaper.

In Delaware, rumors of school violence have led school officials to make outreach efforts to calm parents. A state police official tells the News-Journal that much of the scuttlebutt was being spread on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

If anything, the incidents are a reminder that district officials today have little choice but to keep tabs on social media chatter, even if many questions remain about how vigilant they should be, and what constitutes out-of-bound online behavior by students, morally or legally.

School administrators end up having to address rumors, partly because they spread so quickly among students and parents, and police end up having to devote time and resources to investigating them.

It should be noted that many districts have found ways to embrace social media and integrate it into their academic programs, and in their outreach to students and to parents. As in so many other parts of society, social media platforms in school can enhance learning environments and our ability to communicate reasonably—or they can fuel lots of problems.

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