Policies on Student and Teacher Writing

By Edwin C. Darden

The standing advice of school attorneys is be careful what you say, but be even more careful what you write.

That admonishment applies equally to students and school employees, because a written record is powerful evidence in court. The concrete proof can be used to imply that there was forethought; words can become a self-incriminating dagger when read aloud to the jury; and a seemingly innocent excerpt can be ripped out of context.

If there is a temptation to forget this rule, the consequences become clear when you look at federal court decisions from places as different as Long Island, N.Y., Fulton County, Ga., and Washington state. Each incident involved an ill-advised writing, and in each case, the school district won hands down.

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