Under the guise of defeating bullying, the US Department of Education has stated that it wants school principals to censor student speech, particularly in the cafeteria and at online sites, such as Facebook. School principals are being threatened by the DOE with lawsuits if they do not adhere to what special interest groups deem to be harassment of students. Facebook is delighted to help while the National School Board Association is the only vocal opponent of such a measure.

The agency’s threats, which are delivered in a so-called “Dear Colleague” letter,” have the support of White House officials, including President Barack Obama, who held a Mar. 10 White House meeting to promote the initiative as a federal “anti-bullying” policy.

The letter says federal officials have reinterpreted the civil-rights laws that require school principals to curb physical bullying, as well as racist and sexist speech, that take place within school boundaries. Under the new interpretation, principals and their schools are legally liable if they fail to curb “harassment” of students, even if it takes place outside the school, on Facebook or in private conversation among a few youths.

“Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cell phones or the Internet… it does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents [but] creates a hostile environment … [which can] limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school,” according to the far-reaching letter, which was completed Oct. 26 by Russlynn Ali, who heads the agency’s civil rights office.

School officials will face lawsuits even when they are ignorant about students’ statements, if a court later decides they “reasonably should have known” about their students’ conduct, said the statement.

All school officials should be worried about such legislation. If a principal does not know about a particular action of a student, then how can they be held responsible? How is “reasonably should have known”going to be determined? That is an extremely subjective clause, which could be interpreted in numerous ways. Will the school eventually be responsible for making sure the parents are buying healthy meals? Will they check to make sure the children are only watching acceptable television programs? Where does it end?

Following the discovery of “harassment,” officials may have to require mandatory training of students and their families, according to the Ali letter. “The school may need to provide training or other interventions not only for the perpetrators, but also for the larger school community, to ensure that all students, their families, and school staff can recognize harassment if it recurs and know how to respond… [and] provide additional services to the student who was harassed in order to address the effects of the harassment,” said the letter.

How is it possible that the Department of Education can institute laws and requirements for parents and families? The is a broad overstep of powers. What children do outside of home is not the school’s business. It is the parent’s business. If they cannot police their own children, then maybe the students shouldn’t be online and the parents need to be taught how to deal with such circumstances. This is why we have police departments.

I can assure you, if my mother knew everything I was up to, who my friends were, and what mischief I was up to 99% of the time and there was no internet or cell phones to track me, parents today can do the same. Unfortunately, far too many people in society, from politicians to parents, believe that the school should be the ones responsible for all aspects of raising children.

The remedies being pushed by administration officials will also violate students’ and families’ privacy rights, disregard student’s constitutional free-speech rights, spur expensive lawsuits against cash-strapped schools, and constrict school official’ ability to flexibly use their own anti-bullying policies to manage routine and unique issues, said the NSBA letter.

You cannot and never will be able to stop people from expressing how they feel. If and when you do, your country is no longer free but a totalitarian wasteland. I work in education. I hear things every single day, some directed at me. While hateful speech is dealt with by administrators, one needs to remember the old “sticks and stones” policy that gets you through life. Just because some speech may offend your ideas and beliefs, it does not make that speech illegitimate. You are going to be offended numerous times in your life. Learning how to deal with that growing up is much better than sheltering children from such speech until they are adults.

Once these children go out into the real world, they will not understand how to deal with someone who thinks differently than they do. They will never stand up for themselves or speak their mind because they will have been beaten down through twelve years of education teaching them that what they think is wrong, unimportant, and/or might hurt someone else’s feelings.

While we do need to curb the ongoing harassment and bullying of many teens, particularly those at high risk of suicide, curbing most free speech is not the way to handle it. Those that attempt suicide or commit suicide have been bullied, harassed, and aggravated for a long time. There are warning signs. Students, and sometimes teachers, know it’s happening. We should be spending time teaching others why it’s wrong instead of stifling free expression.

We should not be trying to stop the effect, but treating the cause. We learn our whole lives to think of ourselves first. Win at all costs. We are fed propaganda that the United States is the best country in the world. The “always win” attitude is taught as the best possible strategy for getting ahead in life. Imagine what could happen if we started thinking about others first instead of ourselves.