The “MySpace” Issue Hits Home in Orange County

Article: News – Boy faces expulsion over Web threat This incident, already linked to by many, hit very close to home this week. Not only did it happen in Orange County, but in the district where I used to teach… at one of the two middle schools that were involved with the EETT funded handheld grant I managed from 2003 to 2004. So I know the administration and many of the teachers. Though I’ve spoken with people at the district about the incident, I have not spoken with anyone from the site.

The district, and the county, (and many others) have blocked MySpace for some time, so this happened off site. Even so, I learned from an expert at the OCDE that the school was well within its legal rights (according to California Ed Code) to discipline and even expel the student who made the threat because the environment of fear extended into the school. However, I can see though where the district may have trouble with the suspension of the students who may or may not have viewed the site from home as well. At the very least it will be difficult to keep consistent with this policy… another administrator friend of mine wondered if every student who views (or may have viewed) an inappropriate site from home would be suspended? And, was there precedence for this?

This part of the story sounds dangerously close to the recent report of a student who was expelled for a parody of his principal posted on MySpace. See Scenes From the MySpace Backlash (Via Wired News) for this story. I found this bit encouraging:

The punishment led to an ACLU lawsuit that is ongoing, and garnered the school district a slew of critical stories in the local papers.

And following some discouraging discussion of specific sexual molestation cases involving MySpace, I was happy to find these perspective bringing statistics:

An August study by the National Center for Juvenile Justice estimated there were about 15,700 statutory rapes reported to law enforcement agencies in the United States in 2000, based on an analysis of data collected by the FBI. That amounts to 43 cases per day. In fact, with a reported population of 57 million users, MySpace is arguably safer from such crime than other communities that haven’t been the subject of the same scrutiny. One example: California, which averaged 62 statutory rape convictions per month in the late 90s, in a state population of 33 million.

There was also a particularly mature and appropriate response posted by a teenager in the comments on the article:

I can’t help but wonder… Clearly, those adults who think myspace is bad for us kids and will only lead to us being sexually molested clearly has forgotten their teenage years. I’m a teenager, and I use myspace. I have yet to be contacted by someone I don’t know, and i’ve certainly never been molested. I’m sure you all remember your struggle for independence as teenagers, so why do you insist on restricting ours? Now that technology allows you to keep track of us, its that much easier. We can’t go out on our own because we might be abducted, and we can’t play violent video games because it will cause us to want to shoot up our school. Now we can’t go on the internet because we’ll get molested? Whats next? We can’t sleep in our own beds because someone could come in through our window and hurt us? Stop being so overprotective, because if you ever want us to grow, we need to experence life. You ask why we spend so much time on the computer. Maybe its because you won’t let us do anything else ‘because its too dangerous’

It sounds like the county office is considering a coordinated response to “the MySpace issue” that might include an internet safety education program in partnership with local police departments. This sounds promising. In the meantime, the much linked to MySpace Cheat Sheet for Parents (Via Wired News) may be of benefit for educators concerned about this.

This incident happened to occur nearly simultaneously with the county’s interdiction of because of a report that students accessed inappropriate material through a blogspot blog. It is clear this is not an isolated incident. There is great discussion happening in the comments at Will’s blog, and I have high hopes that a similar discussion will take place with leadership at the county, though the infamous “Next Blog” feature at blogger may indeed be a “deal killer” with decision makers, as it has often been for individual teachers. I could only teach so many people to remove it.

This is an interesting time to be an educator, as these decisions are discussed and made… though not necessarily in that order. ;)