Uniformed Pasco students could face penalties for social media comments

School Board members say the children represent their school.
Members of the Pasco High School's Band of Pirates march by during the Pasco County Fair Jam Packed with Excitement Parade in 2018. [Times | 2018]
Members of the Pasco High School's Band of Pirates march by during the Pasco County Fair Jam Packed with Excitement Parade in 2018. [Times | 2018] [ Times (2018) ]
Published July 6, 2020|Updated July 8, 2020

Wearing a Pasco County school uniform?

Watch what you say while you’re on social media.

Saying that students in school apparel reflect upon their school’s reputation, Pasco School Board members are set to adopt stricter rules governing online behavior in the Student Code of Conduct for the coming year.

If a student in uniform violates the district’s digital citizenship guidelines, the proposal states, that person will be held accountable. Consequences could include suspension or dismissal from the team, or forfeiture of games, contests or results.

“If they are wearing school stuff, they are representing the school — especially if it is a school-issued uniform,” board chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said.

As such, vice chairman Allen Altman said, “their conduct and communication should be appropriate to what we would expect if they were in a classroom or in our schools.”

Both stressed that they didn’t mean only student athletes, as the initial rule change called for.

Related: Pasco students in uniform could face discipline for social media comments

Rather, the latest version of the proposal includes students who participate in school sponsored clubs and activities, as well. Beaudoin said she had questions right away when the first version came out targeting athletes but not marching band members, debate competitors or others.

She did not, however, share concerns raised by observers who suggested that such a restrictive rule might violate students’ free speech rights while extending district authority into children’s hours away from school.

Beaudoin, whose son is a rising high school senior, said the message should be, “Don’t go on social media and make bad choices.”

Altman said the issue centers on appearing in a school uniform, which connects directly with the school.

“If they’re not wearing anything representing a Pasco County school or the school district, then they are free to express their opinions,” he said. “If they are wearing our jerseys or our school colors, then they in my opinion are in some way representing the school district.”

The board is set to take a final vote on the Student Code of Conduct at its 6 p.m. conference call meeting Tuesday. To address the board on this or other agenda items, the public may call 1-877-271-1828, enter passcode 85319 and receive instructions on how to comment.

UPDATE: The School Board unanimously adopted this rule change without discussion at its July 7 meeting.