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Righetti High School Implements Intervention Plan

After altercations, staff talk to students about ‘proper usage' of social media

Santa Maria Joint Union High School District officials have launched an effort to stem students' social media posts after dozens of Ernest Righetti High School teens were tweeting and otherwise putting pictures plus updates online while in the midst of a lockdown last week.

District officials on Wednesday revealed the intervention plan implemented “after a disruption on campus was fueled by inaccurate information that led to an early dismissal the next day." The plan will remain in place throughout the school year.

“Many students have already been spoken to by intervention staff and teachers about the proper usage of social media and asked not to tweet or post anything during class or the school day,” the district statement said. “Parents have received the correct information through recorded calls from Principal Karen Rotondi.”

A series of student fights that escalated to throwing food at Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies and security staff prompted law enforcement members from throughout North County to respond to the campus and a sheriff’s helicopter to circle overhead Nov. 19.

Although in a lockdown, multiple students provided updates — including written posts, pictures and video posted with the various hashtags such as #righetti and #righetto— of the earlier incidents. The posts also occurred once students were released.

In all, nine students were arrested for various criminal charges related to the altercations and taken to Santa Maria Juvenile Hall.

Parents complained last week that they learned more about the incidents at school from media reports and social media posts from students than from school officials

On Nov. 21, school officials released students at lunchtime, saying that unsubstantiated reports were interfering with the educational process. Students and staff had this week off for the Thanksgiving break and return to school Dec. 1.

“We are confident that our intervention plan is helping students and parents understand that unsubstantiated rumor promulgated through the irresponsible use of social media interferes with the educational process," Superintendent Dr. Mark Richardson said in a written statement.

In addition to intervention staff, the plan includes proper and responsible social media usage, how parents can help, increased student communication with parents and staff to identify students using social media, a hotline for pressing concerns and interaction with Fighting Back Santa Maria.District officials did not say if any students faced punishments for their social media posts.

The handbook available on Righetti’s website spells out the rules for electronic devices, but not social media use. Cell phones, the policy notes, have proven to be a "major disruption" on campus.

"Their use at school may be detrimental to the academic climate because they take away valuable instructional time and create disciplinary problems," the Righetti handbook said. "Electronic devices are used to cheat on quizzes and tests by storing data in memory, text messaging and camera usage. Additionally, a substantial amount of time is spent by teachers, security, and administrators investigating lost or stolen electronic devices."

All cell phones must be turned off during class time, according to the policy, which also says that any cell phones used, or even visible, during the restricted time will confiscated.

A parent or guardian would have to pick up a confiscated item and all electronic devices must be turned off during testing, the handbook noted.

A Tennessee school district’s new policy restricting social media use prompted objections from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, citing First and Fourth Amendments. The rules infringe up the students’ rights of free speech and privacy, the two groups noted in October.

The social media portion of the policy is overly broad, applying to “virtually all online communication by [Williamson County Schools] students (including adults), regardless of whether the speech occurs on or off campus,” the groups said in a letter to district. They also criticized the policy as being “impermissibly vague” in prohibiting “inappropriate” or “unauthorized” speech.

The Tennessee policy requires students to get permission from a teacher or administrator to post photographs of other students or staff on social media

“The Supreme Court has long held that students do not shed their right to free speech at the schoolhouse gate. By restricting non-disruptive, off-campus student speech across the board, this policy clearly violates students’ First Amendment rights,” said Thomas Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. 

The groups sought a change to the district’s policy.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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