PITTSBURGH - The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter to the Brownsville Area School District (Fayette County) today asking that administrators revoke and expunge the suspensions levied on students for filming or participating in the popular "Harlem Shake" video meme, which involves recording a group of individuals doing a particular dance and posting it online.
A copy of NCAC's statement condemning the suspensions nationwide and defending students' rights to free expression was also included with the letter.
"By policing online student speech and levying punishments for participation in a harmless Internet fad, school officials are being far more 'disruptive' to the learning environment than these videos could ever be" said Joan Bertin, executive director of NCAC.
"This is certainly not the first time dance and, in particular, one popular with young people, has been a cause of social anxiety and repression. Whatever you think about the 'Harlem Shake,' these videos are a form of protected speech where neither the school nor other students were harmed," said Vic Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
A complete list of student suspensions for involvement in the making of a video in this most recent and pervasive Internet trend can be found at NCAC.org. The Harlem Shake controversy is simply the latest in a growing trend of administrative censorship and punishment in response to online student speech.
In their letter to BASD, the NCAC and the ACLU note that the school district has a history of failing to recognize fundamental constitutional rights. In the past few years, a teacher was suspended after a third party posted a video of a bachelorette party in her home; a student was harassed and disciplined for declining to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance; and the districted resisted students' efforts to form a Gay-Straight Alliance.
NCAC's Youth Free Expression Project counters the growing hysteria around young people's access to culture. With the message that excessive attempts to control and restrict what kids read, create, watch and play are counterproductive, NCAC supports policies that emphasize educating young people on how to be literate participants in contemporary culture.