Schools consider Facebook restrictions for athletes

2014-02-01T17:45:00Z 2014-02-02T22:28:17Z Schools consider Facebook restrictions for athletesStan Maddux Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
February 01, 2014 5:45 pm  • 

At least two Northwest Indiana school districts are coming up with restrictions governing the use of Facebook and other social media by student athletes.

School officials in Michigan City and LaPorte have an eye on having those restrictions in place before the fall semester.

"We want our athletes to be our ambassadors, and that's exactly what they are for our school corporation. We want them to act accordingly and we want them to do that, too, when they are on social media," said LaPorte School Board president Mike Kellems.

Under the restrictions now being developed, no student athlete in LaPorte on social media would be allowed to slander or make a derogatory statement about a teammate or member of an opposing team.

A committee is still deciding what disciplinary action to take against violators, but the hope is to prevent athletes from posting things that could tarnish the reputations of the school district and the students themselves.

Committee member Angela Saoud, an English and journalism teacher at LaPorte High School, said the move is also geared toward protecting the futures of student athletes beyond graduation.

"This could effect college scholarships and admissions and jobs down the line. We certainly wouldn't want to see any of that," said Saoud.

Officials at both school corporations reported no specific defamatory or embarrassing postings by any student athletes yet, but the potential is high given the reckless manner in which social media is used by some people and speed at which postings spread.

"We think it needs to be dealt with," said Michigan City High School athletic director Robert "Bear" Falls.

Falls said a committee is taking its time to put together rules governing social media by student athletes that are solid.

"We're working on a policy that would be safe for everybody," said Falls.

There's been much speculation that people have a right to use social media as they see fit under freedom of speech protections.

Rules governing social media cannot be applied to all students because education is considered everyone's right, but student athletes can be singled out because participating in athletics is not considered a right, but a privilege, according to school officials.

Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said his organization has never handled a complaint over restricting the use of social media by schools.

If a complaint were filed with his group, Falk said a close look would be given to examine the legality of outside interference with the social media pages of student athletes.

"Students do have First Amendment rights, particularly out of school," said Falk. "The question is whether the need for team discipline and cohesion is sufficient to overcome a student's First Amendment rights."

"All I can say if someone would complain about it we'd certainly have to take a long look at it," said Falk.

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