School Climate & Safety

Free-Speech Groups Condemn Suspensions for ‘Harlem Shake’ Videos

By Mike Bock — March 13, 2013 1 min read
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Cross-posted from Digital Education.

The popular Harlem Shake has spawned thousands of imitators, from a Norwegian army regiment to a local television news crew. It’s gotten some of them in trouble.

And now, civil rights groups including the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union are protesting the discipline of students who are among those imitators.

They include some in Pennsylvania’s Brownsville School District. Some versions of the dance, such as the one filmed by 13 high school students in the district, are “very graphic and very vulgar,” they said. According to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the administrators suspended the students.

In a statement released last week, the National Coalition Against Censorship pointed out that hundreds of students from across the country have been suspended for making their own versions of the dance video, which the group argues is a violation of free speech rights. The organization posted the following denunciation of those disciplinary actions:

“Suspending students to enforce notions of propriety regarding extra-curricular activities does nothing to advance education, even as it infringes on students’ rights to express themselves and add their creative variation of the dance to those of thousands of others online.”

R.W. “Rocky” Brashear, president of the Brownsville school board, told the the Tribune-Review that he made the decision to suspend the students because the video shoot—in addition to being inappropriate, was dangerous.

Students were standing on desks and could have fallen, and some of the props they used were dangerous, he said.

“I think we had to do what we had to do the in best interest of the school district,” Brashear said. “If most people saw the full video, it wouldn’t be acceptable to them.”

Does suspending students for making dance videos infringe upon students’ freedom of expression?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.