Imagine if a neighbor, coworker, or salesperson shows up at your home. You reluctantly let them in, and they instantly start criticizing your home’s decoration and cleanliness. You are well within your rights to ask that person to leave. If they refuse, you could then call in the authorities. Law, custom and manners are all on your side.
For the last year, many parents have put up with an unwanted set of guests. Many children’s computers have become part of the educational absurdity known as “remote” or “distance learning.” The teacher and other class members are uninvited guests, able to see and hear everything happening within camera and microphone range.
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According to Education Next, three students face punishment for offenses due to these unwanted visitations. Inside a period of ten days, Cole Mayer of Columbia, Illinois, was suspended because his teacher saw a gun on his bed during a virtual learning session. Ka’Mauri Harrison of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, was suspended for six days for a similar “infraction.” Anthony Ribiero was removed from his Toms River High School (New Jersey) chemistry class because his teacher saw a sign supporting President Trump.
Modern education theory routinely discourages suspensions and expulsions in all but the most extreme cases. Yet all three students described above were suspended or removed under trivial circumstances.
Invasion of Privacy
Online education privacy started to become a concern when most of the nation’s schools adopted some variation of distance learning. Joseph Duball of The International Association of Privacy Professionals briefly described his organizations’ concerns.
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“Among the privacy problems that come with online learning tech are the collection and potential use of students’ personal information, as well as employing products or platforms that are not designed for children. Such issues can bring violations of the U.S. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and state-specific children’s privacy laws.”
The privacy issue exploded in March 2020 when schools abruptly shifted from in-class to online instruction. Most parents received no information about preparing an appropriate learning space. Administrators had to keep up with too many demands suddenly placed upon them to know how to deal with these issues. However, the confusion should argue in the students’ favor when situations like those described above occur.
Indeed, no law or custom authorizes school administrators to regulate what students can have in their bedrooms. All these homes were and remain private property. No one argues that students cannot have political bumper stickers on their cars parked at school. Students also commonly apply such stickers to backpacks and notebooks. Students are not forbidden from wearing shirts indicating a political position unless all shirts with words on them are also prohibited.
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Thus, by what authority can a teacher say what students may have on their bedroom walls or designated study space?
First and Second Amendment
All the above activities are not only legal but are constitutionally protected.
Leftists still cheer the 1969 Supreme Court decision of Tinker v. Des Moines. In this famous case, Mary Beth Tinker wore an armband to school to protest against the Vietnam War. She refused to remove it, and the school suspended her. The high court reversed the school’s decision with the ringing words that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
Anthony Ribiero not only did not bring his Trump sign to school. He did not even pass through the “schoolhouse gate.” All he did was turn on his computer according to the school’s directions.
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The two gun cases are just as shaky. Ka’Mauri Harrison’s gun was a B-B gun that belonged to his brother, who shared the bedroom. Cole Mayer’s weapon was a pellet gun. Not only did the police decide not to arrest Cole, but they also had a friendly conversation with him about hunting birds. The school took action when the police said that Cole had broken no law. If other students were upset at the sight of the guns, the rational response would be that “they have the right to have those weapons in their homes, now let’s get back to the lesson.”
According to Education Next, all three cases await a final decision in court. In a saner era, the findings would be easy to predict. Judges would not even waste their court’s time on cases of such overarching absurdity.
However, as the national “dialogue” spins ever more dangerously out of control, anything can happen.