In the days preceding Thanksgiving break, Roseville High School sophomore Jesse Garcia was confronted on his way to his second period class. Garcia’s pockets and backpack were examined and his phone confiscated as a campus monitor escorted him to the office. Upon arrival, Garcia received a second pat-down from youth service officer (YSO), Carlos Cortes, who led him into assistant principal Jon Coleman’s office after. Nothing came out of either search.
According to Garcia, Coleman proceeded to accuse the sophomore of selling drugs on campus, as Cortes sat in on the interview. Coleman had also printed out some of his “suspicious” tweets relating to drug use. This was the first time administration printed out Garcia’s tweets.
Garcia denied the claims.
Sophomore Austin Ghent faced a similar encounter.
Ghent was called up to the office for suspicion of drug possession based off his tweets and relationship with friend Garcia.
“I retweeted a drawing of a gun,” Ghent said. “But that’s about it, and they tried to tell me I wasn’t supposed to do that, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
Encounters like those experienced by Ghent and Garcia, ones in which students have been asked to explain or delete theirsocial media post – or threated to face consequences because of them, are not isolated. Coleman uses tips he receives about student social media post as a tool for investigation. According to Coleman, students will often come to him about suspicious tweets others have posted.
Coleman also receives such tips about suspicious behavior at school or online. Coleman insists that he does not use social media looking to bust students, but admits they are great tools for investigation.
“I don’t just look through Twitter to find kids doing stupid stuff,” Coleman said. “It just happens that I have a Twitter page and I’m pretty good at poking around through Twitter when people bring me information.”
According to Brad Basham, Roseville Joint Union High School District executive director of personnel, administrators simply do not have the time to patrol students’ online lives.
“They’re way too busy to sit there looking and patrolling,” Basham said. “It’s usually brought to their attention and they go out and verify it.”
Coleman is the only assistant principal at RHS that utilizes Twitter to collect evidence of bad behavior. According to Basham, there have been no district initiative encouraging administrators to use Twitter, and that by using Twitter, Coleman is instead taking matters into his own hands.
According to Coleman, he has the authority to discipline a student for their tweets, as long as those tweets have a nexus to school. Tweeting about drugs or other illegal activities during school hours is punishable because the school is liable for any actions a students from the moment they step on campus to the moment they reach the front door of their house.
“If you’re tweeting during third period, then it’s my business,” Coleman said.
According to Coleman, even tweeting after school may be administration’s concern due to the In Loco Parentis Doctrine, or the Door to Door policy. The doctrine states that school officials act as students’ parents from the time students come to school to the time students get home. If a student can prove they have been home after school, the policy is no longer in effect.
According to Coleman, if a student tweets about selling drugs, planning fights, is bullying on campus or after school, then school officials have an obligation to intervene.
In cases where tweets do not have any relation to school, and they are brought to Coleman’s attention, he may still contact a student’s parents and inform them of their child’s tweets.
Coleman admits that public profiles are public, and are fair game to snoop through.
Administration might not be able to get students in trouble for their tweets, but posting suspicious tweets puts a target on them for administration to see.
According to Coleman, he reaches out to parents about their child’s tweets because he cares about his students.
According to Roseville Joint Union High School District’s executive director of personnel services Brad Basham maintains that when conducting searches, administrators are not trying to get students in trouble, but rather doing their jobs and trying to support campus safety.
“When we’re doing them, not because we’re looking to get students in trouble, it because we’re trying to get the answers that we need,” Basham said.
However, not all conferences stemming from social media discoveries are related to student safety.
Last school year, current senior Haley Guardino tweeted about what she felt was an unpleasant encountered with a RHS staff member.
(Full discloser: Guardino is a staff reporter for Eye of the Tiger.)
According to Guardino, the staff member acted disdainful after Guardino’s request for an AP test fee-waiver. When Guardino asked to talk to Wilson instead, the staff member exploded, screaming and yelling at the student.
According to Guardino, this was not the first time this staff member was rude to her. Feeling attacked, Guardino and a friend tweeted about Guardino’s encounter after school.
“I tweeted, ‘If you’ve ever felt personally victimized by [RHS staff member], raise your hand,” Guardino said.
The tweets received many responses, according to Guardino.
“It was a quote but, it also rang really true because I know many people have felt like that,” Guardino said. “Combined, I think we got 63 retweets and tons of responses, tons of people tweeting about it, responding to us, telling us what happened.”
Guardino was later called to the office and Coleman confronted her about the tweets.
“He told me I couldn’t tweet that,” Guardino said. “That it was slander, I had no idea what [RHS staff member] dealt with, and he was like, ‘I need you to delete all these tweets.’ So I was like, ‘Okay.’ And he said, ‘Right now.’”
According to Guardino, Coleman refreshed and reloaded his computer as Haley deleted her tweets.
“I thought it was ridiculous because it wasn’t like I made anything up,” Guardino said. “It wasn’t like I lied about anything. It’s my right to put that stuff on there.”
Guardino feels like her right to freedom of speech was violated.
“How is it that they can control something that we’re doing in our private time?” Guardino said. “Yeah, you can get in trouble for smoking a blunt on campus, but as soon as you’re at home, doing your own thing Mr. Coleman can’t show up at your door and give you detention. That’s not his authority when you’re in your own life.”
However, according to Coleman, tweeting unfavorable feelings about staff members may be subject to censoring. Coleman believes that posting negative opinions of school faculty, especially by name, is slander and disrupted school activities, a violation of Education Code 48900 K, as it possibly “disrupted school activities or otherwise willfully defied the valid authority of supervisors, teachers, administrators, school officials, or other school personnel engaged in the performance of their duties.”
Coleman feels that students should keep their negative opinions about teachers to themselves, and that problems are not solved by airing dirty laundry on Twitter. Coleman believes in always defending RHS staff members.
On the other hand, Student Press Law Center attorney Adam Goldstein believes that in situations such as Guardino’s, a number of student rights were violated.
According to Goldstein, it was illegal for Coleman to coerce Guardino to delete her tweets about a staff member.
“It violates state law to discipline a student who’s refusing to censor themselves,” Goldstein said. “When you’re talking about stuff that’s basically off campus media, like Twitter and everything else, it’s really just a question of [Education Code ] 48950, and 48950 says you cannot be disciplined for engaging in this speech unless it’s illegal to do it at home.”
Goldstein believes that administration’s concern should not have lied in what Guardino said, but rather the fact that 63 people agreed with her.
“You do want students to be able to say things about how they hate their teachers too, because sometimes teachers are bad teachers,” Goldstein said.
According to Goldstein, to claim disruption according to 48900 K, RHS administration would have had to prove that because of those statements, school was not able to function normally. In addition, it is inherently illegal to discipline a student for their posts on social media, which also applies to both Garcia and Ghent.
In regards to the loco parentis doctrine used as defense for using social media as an investigative tool or asking students to alter their own social media post, Adam said the philosophy is outdated and has been discredited by the Supreme Court.
“It used to be the case, in like, the 1950’s, that when you came to school, they could do whatever your parents could do, except when civil rights were involved,” Goldstein said. “They couldn’t tell you what to say, they couldn’t tell you what religion to practice, they couldn’t tell you any of that … The Supreme Court has pretty clearly recognized that this doctrine is no longer valid. Even when you’re in school, you have actual parents.”
According to the Education Code 48950, a student cannot be disciplined for talking about doing drugs, no matter if they are in school or not. Goldstein claims that the fact that you’re at school when you say something cannot be the basis for punishment, it has to be illegal anywhere to discipline you for it.
“Even if [a student] stands up and says, ‘I smoke pot all the time,’ you can’t punish [them] for smoking pot, because saying ‘I smoke pot’ isn’t smoking pot,” Goldstein said. “In California it’s just not enough to say things that equal intent to do something illegal. Because maybe you’re lying.”
Goldstein understands some school administrators’ knowledge of student’s rights may be limited, but does not feel that it’s an excuse to disregard them.
“Nobody ever said you should be an administrator because you have such a careful and nuanced understanding of student’s civil rights,” Goldstein said. “It’s probably the eighth or ninth thing on their list of things they have to worry about. But, it’s important.”