For decades, the proverbial “schoolhouse gate” has acted as a delineation between on-campus behavior subject to in-school punishment and off-campus acts outside the realm of school administrators’ regulation. Since the Supreme Court’s 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the schoolhouse gate delineation has been well-established and easily applied by courts and school administrators alike. But the advent of computer technology, and particularly the Internet, has upended what were formerly simple delineations. As the Internet permeates further and further into the daily lives of Americans, it continues to blur the once well-established separations between home and work, and school and play.
As our public school administrators face school environments increasingly influenced by off-campus online activity, they have struggled to apply Tinker and its progeny to a school environment that the Court could never have fathomed when it crafted the schoolhouse gate distinction. Rather, the schoolhouse gate has rapidly disappeared as student activity during off-campus hours at off-campus locations can now be instantly accessed within the schoolhouse gate. Without any Supreme Court guidance, lower courts have been left to craft a patchwork of precedent, yielding inconsistent and unpredictable results.