If you have any questions regarding the rights of school districts, contact one of our attorneys at (203) 221-3100.

Public Comments and Interaction

There have been several instances where courts across the country, including the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overseeing Connecticut, have recognized that the interactive comment sections on government-controlled social media accounts can function as a “limited public forum.” This designation means that when these spaces are open for comments, likes, retweets, and other interactions, they operate similarly to the public comment period during board meetings. Under this framework, public speech enjoys First Amendment protections. While the imposition of content-neutral restrictions on time, place, and manner is acceptable, selectively deleting comments or blocking users based on the content of their speech presents legal challenges.

For instance, consider a school district’s Instagram post featuring a game score and photo from the previous night’s event. Initially innocuous, if this post allows comments and parents publicly commend the coach for a well-managed game, the district would likely face legal difficulties if it later deletes subsequent comments demanding the coach’s immediate dismissal due to decisions favoring star freshmen over senior players. This is because once a platform for speech is open to one perspective, selectively restricting an opposing viewpoint can potentially violate the principles of the First Amendment.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

FERPA, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, mandates that schools must obtain prior written consent from parents or eligible students before disclosing personally identifiable information from a student’s education record, except in specific situations. One such exception applies to “directory information,” defined by FERPA as details that are typically not considered harmful or invasive if made public, such as honors, awards, extracurricular activities, photographs, and similar student information designated by the school district.

While much of the content typically posted on district social media accounts qualifies as directory information, districts must still adhere to FERPA’s rules regarding the disclosure of such information before sharing student photos or other details on social media platforms. Under FERPA, parents retain the right to opt out of the disclosure of directory information, even if the information itself may not be objectionable to most individuals. Additionally, administrators must ensure that their annual FERPA notifications to parents accurately specify which types of content may be shared on district social media accounts as directory information. For example, if the notification lists student photos but not videos as directory information, posting a video featuring students on the district’s Instagram account could potentially raise FERPA compliance concerns.

Controversy on Social Media

In addition to these concerns, there are other important factors to take into account regarding social media. For instance, in October, Connecticut joined 42 other states in filing a lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, alleging practices aimed at fostering addiction among children and teenagers on their platforms. Moreover, in recent months, several advertisers have withdrawn from Twitter and X following controversial statements made by its owner, Elon Musk. While the risk of legal liability for Connecticut school districts using social media is minimal, school leaders should carefully weigh whether their district’s use of these platforms sends an appropriate message in the midst of such controversies.

Tips for School Districts to Consider

  • Disable the comment section
  • Get parental consent before posting
  • Develop a policy outlining what can be posted and who can post

Maya Murphy P.C. has proudly been included in the 2024 Edition of Best Law Firms®, ranked among the top firms in the nation. In addition, Managing Partner Joseph C. Maya has been selected to The Best Lawyers in America® 2024 for his work in Employment Law and Education Law in Connecticut. Recognition in Best Lawyers® is awarded to firms and attorneys who demonstrate excellence in the industry and is widely regarded by both clients and legal professionals as a significant honor.

Our firm in Westport, Connecticut serves clients with legal assistance all over the state, including the towns of Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Bethel, Branford, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Cheshire, Danbury, Darien, Derby, East Haven, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Middlebury, Milford, Monroe, Naugatuck, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Haven, Newton, North Branford, North Haven, Norwalk, Orange, Oxford, Prospect, Redding, Ridgefield, Seymour, Shelton, Sherman, Southbury, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Wallingford, Waterbury, West Haven, Weston, Westport, Wilton, and Woodbridge. In addition to assisting clients in Connecticut, our firm handles education law matters in New York as well.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to an attorney about a legal matter, please contact Joseph C. Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or JMaya@Mayalaw.com to schedule a free initial consultation today.