Constitution Day simulation at Ames High

By David Bulla

Students at Ames High School found infringement of their civil rights unpalatable when a group of journalism students from Iowa State University conducted a mock town-hall meeting during three social studies classes on Constitution Day 2009.

ISU student Sarah Haas opened the Sept. 17 proceedings by claiming she was a representative of the Ames School Board. She told the students the board had decided to ban Facebook postings for seniors. This included postings made off-campus.

Haas said she was there to get feedback from the students before the board acted.

“We are doing this for you,” she said. “You don’t need incriminating photos on Facebook that would hamper your potential employment in the future. We also don’t want to see any criticisms of the school administration.”

After the announcement, the seniors in Daniel Klass’ three American civics classes deliberated on the proposed Facebook ban. The students were clearly aghast at the notion. Some students said the ban would be impossible to enforce. Others said Ames High is not a dictatorship. Still others  said Little Cyclone students are smart enough not to make “stupid” posts. One student protested by saying, “My grandmother has a Facebook page.”

Meanwhile, ISU students attempted to disrupt the proceedings by saying “don’t you want a job later,” “the devil is in the Internet,” and “you lie.”

A few students questioned whether the proposed ban was real, but almost all of the students took the potential for the ban serious enough to continue the deliberations.

That’s when Mark Witherspoon, the editorial adviser of the Iowa State Daily, revealed the ruse.

“We actually don’t like limits on free speech,” Witherspoon said, “but all over the country administrators are trying to clamp down on free expression on social network sites, among other things.”

Witherspoon first told students about Morse v. Frederick case, the so-called “Bong Hit 4 Jesus” case. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a student who unfurled an off-campus banner in 2002 as the Olympic torch passed Juneau-Douglas High School in Alaska was justifiably suspended by the administration.

ISU students then talked about cases since the 2007 Morse case that deal with principals trying to limit off-campus speech. For example, a high school student in Pembroke Pines, Fla., named Katherine Evans created a Facebook page criticizing her English teacher. The administration suspended Evans for disruptive behavior and then removed her from the advanced placement English class. Evans, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, later sued.

“The First Amendment is a really loose law,” said Ames senior Ryan Schellew, “but the school board would be making a terrible decision limiting speech.”

The nation’s schools and universities have been required to have a Constitution Day activity since the passing of the 2004 Omnibus spending bill by Congress. In that bill, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia added an amendment requiring educational institutions to promote an appreciation of the Constitution.

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