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School Orders Students to Remove Blogs

Posted by inet - 2005-10-27

NEWARK, N.J. - A Roman Catholic high school has ordered its students to remove their online diaries from the Internet, citing a threat from cyberpredators.
Students at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta appear to be heeding a directive from the principal, the Rev. Kieran McHugh.

McHugh told them in an assembly earlier this month to remove any personal journals they might have or risk suspension. Web sites popular with teens include myspace.com and xanga.com.

Officials with the Diocese of Paterson say the directive is a matter of safety, not censorship. No one has been disciplined yet, said Marianna Thompson, a diocesan spokeswoman.

She said the ban has been on the books for five years but is only now being strictly enforced. Thompson said students aren't being silenced but rather told that they cannot post online writings about school or their personal lives.

A search of both myspace.com and xanga.com Wednesday by The Associated Press found no postings by users who mentioned the school. Profiles posted by other users include photos and detailed personal information on topics such as musical tastes, body measurements and sexual history.

Kurt Opsahl of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which champions the rights of bloggers, said there have been several attempts by private institutions elsewhere to restrict or censor students' Internet postings.

"But this is the first time we've heard of such an overreaction," he said. "It would be better if they taught students what they should and shouldn't do online rather than take away the primary communication tool of their generation."

Thompson said parents of students who enroll in the schools sign contracts governing student behavior, including responsible Internet use.

That could dilute the students' free speech claims somewhat, acknowledged Ed Barocas, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

"The rights of students at private schools are far different than those of public schools because administrators at public schools are agents of government," he said. "That's not the case here."

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