It seems that every day someone is writing a law or policy to take away our right to do something. The one that seems to keep coming up a lot lately is Freedom of Speech. At the national level the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate or the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House is in full fight. Localities are also jumping on the band wagon. The City of Hampton’s School Board is working on a censorship policy about social media aimed at their employees and teachers.
Now I agree that groups need to have a policy about social media to protect from actions that might result in a lawsuit on an entity. It is sad but a reality that they have to put in writing that employees can not blog or tweet about their students. However this policy goes way beyond most general policies. In fact, Hampton’s School Board policy pretty much assures that the city will be eventually sued. The problem arises with the restrictions it places on employees in their off time and on non-city equipment systems. ( full policy here) What is so worrisome is employees can be fired if their comments “Harms the goodwill and reputation of Hampton City Schools “. Now not only does this infringe on the freedom of speech but it would also seem to cross Virginia’s Fraud and Abuse Whistle Blower Protection Act (Chapter No. 340, 2009) .
On top of that consider that the School Board in Hampton is elected not appointed. Therefore, if someone who currently works with the schools wishes to run for office they have to speak about what they would change. If this policy goes into effect then they could be fired. This is not just censorship but also an infringement on citizens being able to participate in civic involvement to better the school system.
Of course this will eventually lead to a lawsuit which Hampton will have to defend. I have heard in the past elected officials tell me something is legal till someone sues you. However, when you knowingly doing something that will take you to court it is not the elected officials who pay but the citizens. This is similar with another case in Hampton where the Sheriff fired all officers who supported his opponent in the last election. The Sheriff refused to settle as he says his officers “serve at his pleasure” ie they are required to support him . So this case is going to court and who will pay? The citizens because it is his pleasure but not his money.
What it comes down to is if the citizens will care enough to stop this policy or will they just agree to pay off another lawsuit waiting to happen.