The headline on a recent Daily Caller piece was eye-catching: “Fed instructs teachers to Facebook creep students.” The story, featured in the online news source started by former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, went on to say that the U.S. Department of Education was threatening school districts with lawsuits if they don’t police their students’ “lunchtime chat and evening Facebook time.”
Now, hold on a minute.
The story is referring to guidance the Education Department put out way back in October, which outlined school districts’ responsibility in addressing bullying in schools and harassment that might spill over from off-campus into the classroom.
The National School Boards Association raised several concerns about the guidance, fearing that it went too far in expecting districts to police bullying and harassment on and off campus. In a December letter to the department, the NSBA also worried that school officials would run afoul of the First Amendment if they tried to discipline students for their behavior while not in school.
Apparently, the Daily Caller must have just stumbled upon this debate.
In any case, the department finally wrote back to the NSBA. In a nine-page letter dated March 25 that is full of legalese, the department essentially says that no, it did not overreach in its original guidance to school officials—that it only reiterated existing laws and policies and gave examples of how districts can help combat bullying. In addition, when it comes to off-campus bullying, the department maintains that school districts can avoid clashing with the First Amendment by focusing on education and counseling, rather than discipline.