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School Notes: Students Take on the Constitution

If a potential employer or her school principal were to ask for her Facebook password, Hannah Clark of Unity would respond the way many would: “I’d freak out,” she said. According to her reading of the U.S. Constitution, she’d be well within her rights to say no.

The Unity Elementary School eighth-grader pondered whether the Constitution allows employers or school administrators to ask job applicants, employees and students for passwords to social media accounts in an essay she submitted in the 2012 New Hampshire Constitution Day Essay Contest. In her view, the first amendment, which protects freedom of speech, and the fourth, safeguarding American citizens from unnecessary searches, protect people from having to reveal their social media lives to superiors.

Clark’s essay includes some humorous possibilities — including one in which a potential employer asks a job applicant for “a list of people who have poked you on Facebook in the past week” — and logic that made hers one of nine finalists in the middle school division of the statewide contest.

The assignment “was kind of easy,” Clark said, “because I’m obsessed with Facebook.” She also had the chance to consider the implications that the U.S. Constitution, a 225-year-old document, could have in her life.

“I didn’t realize how it’s impacted teenagers as much as it has,” she said.

Sponsored by the New Hampshire Supreme Court and nine newspapers, including the Valley News, the Constitution Day Essay Contest is designed to encourage students like Clark to ask serious questions about the Constitution.

Will Weatherly, a Lebanon High School sophomore who was a finalist in the high school category, said he’s “considered following a career path that would lead to being a lawyer of some sort,” but added, “I’ve never considered the actual documents involved” in forming the nation’s laws.

In his essay, “The Constitution in a Buzzing New World,” Weatherly arrived at a similar conclusion as Clark: that the Constitution’s allowances for freedom of speech and protecting citizens against unwarranted searches should prohibit employers from asking for their Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest passwords. Allowing officials to do otherwise creates an invasion of privacy that is, in Weatherly’s words, “unreasonable and unjust.”

The framers of the Constitution, however, could not have envisioned a world with computers, Weatherly said, or one with so many forms of communication.

“This generation has seen that growth of social media,” he said. “I thought it was appropriate that I had to find my own interpretation” of the Constitution’s powers.

Each year on Sept. 17, schools around the country observe Constitution Day.

Clark and Weatherly were two of more than 500 students across New Hampshire who submitted essays to this year’s contest.

Events

The Upper Valley Farm to School Network will host a potluck breakfast at Woodstock Elementary School on Dec. 3, starting at 8:30 a.m., to discuss the Farm to School Community Curriculum Project. The program sends trained adult volunteers to elementary school classrooms to offer lessons on local agriculture.

UVFTS will also host “Farm to School in the Middle and High School Curriculum,” at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 at Woodstock Union High School, in which several teachers will share lessons about bringing food and farming topics into the secondary curriculum.

School Notes appears each Tuesday. Email announcements and upcoming events to kbryan@vnews.com.