Social Media & School Discipline

Can You Get In Trouble at School for Posting On Social Media?

Can you ever be disciplined at school for something you say on social media off-campus and outside of school hours?  The short answer to this question is sometimes. When it comes to school discipline, online behavior creates some gray areas.

A few things to consider are:

  • Does your school have a discipline or honor code & is there anything in that code that addresses online communication?
  • Is your school identified in the post in any way, shape or form?
  • Did you post using a school device?
  • Is everyone at school talking about your post to the extent that the school could feel it’s caused or has the potential to cause a disruption at school?
  • Was your post threatening in any way or could it be deemed as cyberbullying?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then there is a good chance that you could face disciplinary action at school for what you posted off-campus and/or outside of school hours.  The standard often cited by schools is based the 1969 Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines which holds that if a student’s action (in this case your social media post) creates, or is likely to create, a “substantial disruption of or material interference with” the school environment, your school can and will discipline you.

A recent example (and troubling for a variety of reasons) comes from  local high school students who created & posted a racially offensive video outside of school that went viral throughout the school community.  In a letter about the incident, the school principal said "consistent with the Student Code of Conduct, we are making appropriate decisions regarding consequences for those involved, including student separations from school".  There are tons of other examples where students’ posts got them in trouble at school such as:

If you post off-campus and your post does NOT disrupt the school community, involve threats, cyberbullying, or violates a school’s discipline or honor code, then most of the time, school discipline will be off-the-table.  The thing you need to remember though is even if you don’t think your post will cause a disruption at school, your school could have a different opinion.

So, before you post, take a few moments and think about the potential repercussions or consequences that might arise as a result of your online behavior.

Julie Fisher, M.Ed., is the founder of The Social U and consults with schools, organizations and individuals through the MJ Fisher Group.  

Twitter: @Julz Fisher, @the_social_u