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District Suspends Social-Media Policy for Student-Athletes

A California school district yesterday temporarily suspended a controversial social-media policy that could have subjected student-athletes to discipline for posting demeaning statements or derogatory language about classmates or school staff members, according to the Student Press Law Center.

The decision by the Lodi Unified district comes two days after the SPLC and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California sent a letter to the school board and superintendent asking for the immediate suspension of the policy. Both groups alleged that it "violate[d] federal and state law and infringe[d] on students' fundamental constitutional rights."

The now-suspended six-point policy would have applied to all student-athletes in the district, along with students who participated in other extracurricular activities. The policy's first four bullets all veered on the side of instruction, warning students that social-media privacy settings aren't necessarily foolproof and encouraging students to keep their public profiles professional.

However, critics alleged that the district overstepped its boundaries with the fifth part of the policy, which threatened, "Lodi High School students should be aware that if their conduct is deemed inappropriate, such conduct may be subject to discipline, not only by school authorities, but also by law-enforcement agencies."

In their letter to the district, the SPLC and ACLU-NC wrote that the policy "reache[d] beyond constitutionally unprotected and unlawful behavior and proscribes extremely broad classes of speech, such as 'demeaning statements,' 'language in reference to violence, drug or alcohol use, [or] bullying,' and any expression deemed 'inappropriate' by school officials." By doing so, the policy was in clear violation of the First Amendment, the two groups argued.

"Online bullying is a genuine concern, but this policy goes so greatly beyond any speech that could be considered bullying that it would leave students entirely at the mercy of subjective, and potentially retaliatory, punishment for speech that crosses some mysterious line of 'inappropriateness,' " said Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the SPLC and a lawyer, in a statement.

The policy will be revised, according to the Lodi News-Sentinel, and presented at the next school board meeting on Aug. 20.

"We will revise the statement in order to clearly communicate the original intent, which was to describe how social networking can lead to consequences at school, as allowed by current law," said the district's superintendent, Cathy Nichols-Washer, to the paper.

The revised policy will be available for public review at 5 p.m. on Friday, the paper reports.

Below, I've embedded the original, now-suspended policy.

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