A public high school sends out a tweet that classes have been canceled in advance of a snowstorm: “No school tomorrow — see you in June.” A student retweets it, adding his own message profanely pointing out that graduating seniors won’t be affected: “Fuck off #seniors #nomakeup #chirpchirp.”
The student — 18-year-old Nick Barbieri, a gamer and social-media maven — sent out his retweet from home, on his own time. So what should North Attleborough High School officials have done? The possible answers: (a) ignore it; (b) call Barbieri in for a friendly (or maybe not so friendly) chat; or (c) order Barbieri to remove the offending tweet and several related tweets or risk a five-day suspension, then slap him with six hours of detention even after he complied.
Unfortunately, the answer NAHS chose to follow was (c), which led to the involvement of the ACLU of Massachusetts. Our Muzzle goes to principal Scott Holcomb. To Holcomb’s credit, he quickly backed down and canceled the detentions, telling the Sun Chronicle of Attleborough, “The school system is looking to work with the ACLU to figure out how to handle free speech issues while promoting and enhancing digital citizenship in the 21st century.” But he should have known better.
One way for Holcomb to begin his process of self-education is by recognizing that his authority to interfere with his students’ First Amendment rights stops at the schoolhouse door. Given that he’ll soon become an assistant superintendent, let’s hope he’s a fast learner.