I was just reading last week's article Can school punish students for off-campus, online behavior? and my first reaction was:
"No, they are not within their rights to suspend students for comments posted on a public site about their fellow students when the students are off-campus."
But now I am not so sure. Before I pass judgement, I want to know:
Does the school, or school district, have a published policy on student conduct toward one another?
Do they have a published policy on 'computer user rights and responsibilities'?
If so, was either policy violated?
Were school-issued computing accounts or school-owned computing resources used?
Was the school mentioned in the posts in question?
At the very least, the boys in question may be subject to civil penalties for 'defamation of character' but that would require the parents of the girls in question to file their own lawsuits -- probably not much gain compared to the expense.
The First Amendment does not protect libelous speech, or speech which endangers others (such as yelling 'fire' in a crowded theatre.) Further ...
While the First Amendment is frequently used to protect a Free Press -- even when they are acting irresponsibly, the First Amendment is often ignored when a student newspaper tries to tackle a difficult or controversial subject which raises the ire of parents unwilling to tackle the same subject with their adolescent children.
If schools (and not parents) are to be held accountable for the actions of their students toward one another, then they need the tools to enforce their codes of conduct.
Ultimately, adolescents should be held accountable for their anti-social behavior toward each other, just as their younger siblings would be.
It's time to stop the hypocrisy and start expecting our adolescents to behave like the adults they soon will become.
In the end, like most adults, children (yes, even adolescents) will live up to (or down to) whatever expectations are set for them.