St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic School in Bloomfield Hills has taken its concern about student postings on Web sites such as MySpace one step further than most schools.
It announced a policy that flatly refuses to enroll students with accounts on MySpace.com or similar sites. Students were told Tuesday to delete their accounts on such social networking sites if they wanted to stay at the school.
St. Hugo officials could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon, but the policy is displayed on the school's Web site.
"Over the last several weeks, there has been an arrest of a teacher and a police officer, both of whom posed as children on the Internet to arrange meetings with unsuspecting children," according to the notice on the school's home page. "It is out of this concern that we have determined that the school must take a stand." The policy also says: "If a family chooses to allow their children to continue their MySpace.com account, they will not be allowed to continue as students at St. Hugo."
The school's Web site also pointed out that MySpace-style sites of some St. Hugo students violate the school's Internet policy against inappropriate comments, pictures and harassment.
"I'm perfectly OK with that," Bruce Calengor of Rochester said of the policy. His 13-year-old son, Charles, attends St. Hugo. "I don't allow him to do that sort of stuff. He has access to the Internet, but I don't allow that. ... I think there are plenty of things they can do without monkeying around on things like that."
Where on Earth does the school get the authority to expel or deny entry to students based on what they do outside of school hours and off school grounds? (My mistake, it's a Catholic school. See comments.) Potential criminal or social problems that arise from extracurricular activities are problems for the guidance counselor to deal with, and I can understand why administrators would restrict Internet usage on school time and equipment. But a blanket ban on something the school has no jurisdiction over? It's the equivalent of having a policy that states "No Students May Wear Hats" then expelling students that are found to be wearing hats, whether or not they are on school property. Isn't that utterly ridiculous?
Now this may fall under the same general category that allows employers to prohibit inter-office romances, itself of dubious legality unless the relationship has explicit repercussions within the workplace. Nonetheless, it is not the school's place to administer or discipline based on students' private lives, nor to punish those who have done nothing wrong.
MySpace's policy is to deny accounts to anyone under the age of fourteen. Parents can be held accountable for their kids' Internet access, and threats or harassment can met with the appropriate response by disciplinarians inside or outside the school. Online predators can be tracked and kids can be educated about the dangers of sharing personal information online. Popularity contests are entirely normal and meaningless. There are other, more responsible ways of dealing with the issues that caused this than suspending kids for their choosing to set up an account. If the TEACHERS and the POLICE are posing as predators to lure children, then what should be screamingly obvious is that the TEACHERS and the POLICE are the ones who need to be shaken down.
The people responsible for it don't want to care, though. It's easier for parents and teachers to institute a blanket policy than it is for them to take the time and effort to address the real, dangerous issues they fear, with the result that those issues go unaddressed and the kids have earned nothing but another tightening of the collar, all in the name of 'safety.' It's the same overstepping of authority and sweeping security reform that's caused the restrictions of personal liberties for adults, too.
Stay tuned, more on the way. But first, I gotta change my laundry over.