By regularly losing court cases when they’ve tried it, school districts around the nation have learned they pretty much are barred from taking punitive actions against students who create web sites on their own, even when school officials find those web sites offensive. Now, according to the June 14 New York Times article, some teachers at a New York City high school reportedly have taken matters into their own hands.
eSchool News’ repeated attempts to elicit comment from any member of the faculty, administration, or school board involved in this matter haveto datebeen unsuccessful to date, but those efforts will continue.
According to the New York Times, a 16-year-old top student at an elite New York City high school has reportedly been threatened with a lawsuit and with having faculty recommendations for college withheld because he created a web site to evaluate his teachers.
Gary He, a student at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, started a web site where Stuyvesant’s 3,000 students could anonymously assess their teachers’ performances, the Times said.
The evaluations have since been removed, but some of those initially posted actually seemed to encourage sound study habits, it was reported:
“Participate! When I had him, he assigned homework every night and the next day, we’d discuss it, so that’s important to know,” one student reportedly wrote about social studies teacher Robert Floersch. But the anonymous commentaries also contained personal asides that some teachers apparently found onerous. “Tests count a lot. If only he would stop smoking those Camels.”
Visits to He’s site reportedly grew from 200 to more than 700 per day before teachers found out about them.
One teacher suggested at a regular meeting with the principal May 21 that teachers respond to the criticism by refusing to write college recommendations for anyone in the junior class, according to a report in the school’s newspaper, The Spectator.
In late May, He stopped operating the web site, but with some reluctance.
“Teacher Evaluations [web site] is currently down but will soon be back better than ever,” He reportedly wrote in the area of the site that once contained the evaluations “The vox populi must be heard.”
Another person posting to the dismantled evaluation area had this comment: “Since [New York City teachers] can’t really be fired for anything less than a felony, SOMEONE has to keep an eye on them. Why not the people they’re paid to teach? Who else knows better?”
According to the New York Times, a math teacher, Bruce Winokur, threatened He with a libel suit, and other teachers reportedly let the young man know how angry and uncomfortable they were.
“I don’t want to spend my summer days in a courtroom,” He told the Times.
But He, who has a 92 average, now faces the challenge of getting recommendation letters for admission to a good school, the Times said.
Some of the students posting comments on the matter had balanced advice for both teachers and students.
“To those of you who post weak comments that are obviously just the product of academic frustration: grow up,” wrote student Sean Brandt in the evaluation area of the site. “To those of you who threatened legal action against Gary or other such petty revenge against the moderator of this site: ditto.”
Officials at the high school declined to comment and directed eSchool News to the superintendent, who could not be reached. Attempts to contact teachers at the school also were unsuccessful.
This post to the student site signed with He’s name seemed to sum the situation: “Hey people who found this site through a newspaper or a newscast… This is just another site, nothing special. All of the ‘controversy’ resolved about two-three weeks ago, what you are seeing is what’s left from the battle. So anyhoo, try not to mess it up too much, all you computer experts out there. Have a nice day everyone!”
The “quote of the day” on the high school’s official web site on June 19 was from Eric Hoffer: “The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do.”
He’s site: Stuynet.com
Stuyvesant High School
New York City Board of Education
New York Times article