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Thursday, May. 4th 2017

Academic Appeal: The Internet and Student’s Freedom of Speech

An academic appeal is a procedure which allows a student, in certain circumstances, to ask for a review of a decision relating to your academic progress or award. We are seeing an increase in academic appeals in the area of student rights and free speech. Assessment of a student’s achievement or academic behavior requires specialized knowledge on the part of faculty and administration. With technology booming and a majority of students globally engaged in posting, blogging, tweeting, and chatting about their classmates, teachers, or schools, academia is hard-pressed to hold the seat of expert with specialized knowledge on this social behavior or its effect on achievement and academic behavior. This is why a student’s social actions are being deemed “student misconduct” and end up in academic appeal.

Student misconduct or disciplinary misconduct has traditionally referred to students engaged in fighting, stealing, drug use and other behaviors typically addressed by criminal courts and not needing academic expertise to evaluate what occurred. In recent years, academia has had to face a grey area of misconduct as it relates to achievement and academic behavior. When does freedom of speech on the internet or via social platforms become bullying, hate speech, shaming, or social alienation and harmful to the educational process?

Cohen law firm academic appeal

An astounding majority of teens and young adults go online at least once a day using digitally aided communications via social media. Texting and IM’ing are preferred modes of communication versus phone calls and face-to-face visits. Digital communication seems to be the way the younger generation shares their thoughts, feeling and even their inner-most desires. In recognition of this growing trend, businesses have started using social profiles as consideration before hiring. In recent years, educational institutes have used social platforms in their student selection decisions and now as part of their ongoing determination of a student’s behavior.

Remember, the constitutional right to free speech isn’t a guaranteed free pass to say anything you want without facing the consequences. The often public communications of these social platforms leaves a trail that may, due to the nature of the content, come to the attention of school disciplinary authorities. Educational institutes are monitoring for student misconduct and whether it be fighting with physical blows or discriminating words, there will be harsh academic consequences.

While some kinds of speech are protected under the First Amendment, it does not protect all kinds of speech, in particular your social media presence. For example, anything you say or write that can be considered to be ‘Hate’ speech – is not automatically protected. This would include everything from face-to-face confrontations at school to what you post on social media. Inciting violence with statements that encourage someone to commit illegal or dangerous acts is not protected. Certain comments posted to social media can be construed as slander, libel or defamation, and are not always protected. True threats are always illegal and are never protected.

Due to changes in how students communicate (online), the courts across the nation have had to make adjustments regarding the student’s right to free expression. Rules have had to be expanded concerning the consequences of students posting online. As this change is occurring, Academic Appeals are increasing. Some courts are upholding a student’s rights online and others are allowing school districts to punish students for such speech, even when it is done off campus. At best, the results of each academic appeal are subject to the expertise of the defending attorney, the knowledge of the presiding judge, and the circumstances of the case. Each case is different and an evaluation of them shows contradictions in judgement and punishment.

Mr. Cliff Cohen, of the Cohen Law Office, LLC, is knowledgeable and experienced in defense of Student’s Rights and in writing effective Academic Appeals. He understands the issues social media and technology poses and is available to discuss your academic appeal for a no cost, no obligation during your initial consultation. cac@studentrightslawyers.com or 785.979.7361.


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