After a fight between two students last week at Northwest High School in Indianapolis, Indianapolis Public School officials are meeting Monday with district principals to review student safety policies and procedures, including consequences for students who post videos of fights to social media.
Video of a fight last week between a male and female student was uploaded to YouTube, and according to IPS’s website, an updated version of the Student Code of Conduct will address students who take photos or videos of altercations between other students.
A press release on IPS’s website explains the district’s stance on taking videos of fights and posting them to social media:
[IPS Police Chief Steven Garner] said that when it comes to cell phone video and social media, there are some disturbing trends that he cautions our students to avoid. Posting video of a fight on social media is not illegal, but it could lead to legal trouble if those involved were planning the video on purpose.
“If there were suggestion the fight was staged and recorded,” said Chief Garner, “we could perhaps petition the prosecutor to consider a conspiracy to commit battery.” In that case, the photographer could face conspiracy charges as well.
Chief Garner also stressed that video of an incident is not needed to file legal charges, either. Many cases are successfully prosecuted based on witness accounts and other evidence regularly.
The release also says the new Student Code of Conduct allows for the school to suspend a student who posts a fight video to social media. But from a legal standpoint, Frank Lomonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, says this policy raises concerns about free speech protected under the First Amendment.
“I feel much more confident that a school could legally tell you not to shoot the video in the first place than they could tell you what to do with it afterward,” Lomonte says. “In other words, if the school has a policy that says ‘don’t have your phone out during school hours’ or ‘don’t be using it as a video camera during school hours’ they can probably enforce that.”
Lomonte says applying the First Amendment to this situation is tricky, because we are still in the very beginning of the smartphone era, so there is little legal precedent to help inform the legal system. He says it’s also murky because it’s hard to define what would be protected speech if a student posted a fight video like this.
“If the kid has a blog and he occasionally blogs about school matters in a way that appears journalistic then he may have a stronger claim than a kid that is literally just doing it for giggles to embarrass people on YouTube,” Lomonte says.
In a statement, District Positive Discipline Coordinator Cynthia Jackson says IPS wants students to abstain from filming fights and posting them online because that will live on the Internet forever.
“We’re not teaching digital citizenship, and I think as a district we need to explore that,” Jackson says. “Students need to understand the things they share online can implicate their school and the entire district in a negative light.”