Fed up with episodes of cyberbullying, Lodi Unified School District officials are requiring high school athletes and club members to sign a contract vowing not to post inappropriate language or photos online.
The contract, which took effect when the new academic year started July 26, prohibits online posts, Facebook "likes" or retweets of profane or sexual material. It also prohibits demeaning statements about other people.
Lodi school trustees approved the policy in March, and administrators said the contract was fashioned after one used by a Southern California district.
"What's happening at every school, students are using social media to state their opinions, and not always very politely or appropriately," said Bob Lofsted, principal at Lodi High School, one of the district's four high school campuses affected by the policy.
"It's a form of keyboard cowardice to sit back in the safety of your room and say things that you wouldn't say face to face," he said in an interview Tuesday.
But the policy has drawn strong criticism from high school students who say their free-speech rights are being breached by the district. A handful of students waited Tuesday at a district trustees meeting for a chance to express their frustration with the plan.
Brandi Cross, a 17-year-old senior at Bear Creek High School, said before the meeting that she may refuse to sign the contract "since anything could be seen as inappropriate behavior." She is secretary of the school's glee club and treasurer for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender club.
Jacob Williams, opinion editor of Bear Creek's newspaper, The Bruin Voice, wrote in prepared remarks that he is furious at the policy.
Williams' newspaper in May quoted the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, who called the contract "outlandishly illegal" and said many segments are unconstitutional. The Vermont-based center advises student journalists on their First Amendment rights.
Some students said they're fine with the contract.
Amanda Sieglock and Elizabeth Orgon, student leaders at their respective campuses, Tokay and Lodi high schools, attended Tuesday's meeting to report on their schools' activities. Each said in an interview they support the idea that the policy can help prevent cyberbullying.
Under the Lodi district policy, failure to comply could mean a one-time suspension from a game or club activity for the first offense. A second offense could mean a ban from any club event for the year.
Administrators pointed to cases nationally in which suicides occurred after affected students had been bullied.
District leaders said they won't monitor students' social posts but will respond when inappropriate content is brought to their attention.
"We're not NSA," Bill Atterberry, principal at Bear Creek High School, said in an interview, referring to the National Security Agency. "We're not trolling through everybody's personal stuff.
"When a student is being harassed, they bring the evidence in. Then we go in and start looking for verification," Atterberry said.
That approach backfired on one student, according to parent Jana Van Os, whose daughter, Natalia Capovilla, is a junior and a cheerleader at Lodi High.
Her daughter objected to a post she saw, Van Os said. Then she became the target of retaliation when someone anonymously sent a photo of her daughter to administrators.
The photo, Van Os said, showed her daughter with her boyfriend, and she had her tongue out. The mom said the picture was not offensive.
"I told the school I'm the only one who can decide what is sexually inappropriate," she said.
Despite objections, administrators said they're prepared to go forward with the policy.