Student First Amendment Speech and Expression Rights: Armbands to Bong Hits

Student First Amendment Speech and Expression Rights: Armbands to Bong Hits

Student First Amendment Speech and Expression Rights: Armbands to Bong Hits

Student First Amendment Speech and Expression Rights: Armbands to Bong Hits

Synopsis

Ramey examines the legal boundaries of student speech and expression rights in school, as developed and defined by the U.S. federal courts. At issue is the proper extent of student speech and expressive conduct protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of discussing these decisions is to better enable educators to make informed decisions regarding student speech and expression in school. Ramey focuses on the Supreme Court's four main student speech and expression decisions: in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Sch. Dist. (1969), Bethel Sch. Dist. v. Fraser (1986), Hazelwood Sch. Dist. v. Kuhlmeier (1988), and Morse v. Frederick (2007). It also examines the lower federal courts' interpretation and application of these opinions to a variety of student speech and expression situations.

Excerpt

Forty years after it was established that students’ rights do not end at the school house gates, school administrators are often left wondering what, if any, ability they have to limit students’ speech rights in school. Can a student pass out anti-abortion literature while preaching about the sins of the practice at the lunch room table? Can a 1 grader provide “holiday” treats to her classmates, with a message about the birth of Christ attached? And, is Rent an acceptable production for the school’s spring musical? Prior to 1969, the answer to all of these questions was most likely – no. Since 1969, an array of student, and conflicting school official, opinions have emerged regarding just how appropriate some of these types of speech and expression may be in the school environment. The decision that started schools, administrators, students and courts down this path: Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Sch. Dist. (1969).

In December 1965, after meeting with family and community members, several students decided to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. The school administration learned of the planned student action and adopted a policy, which mandated that any student wearing an armband would be asked to remove it. If any student refused, he or she would be sent home, suspended, and not allowed to return until the student returned without the armband. John Tinker, his sister and one other student wore their armbands to school and were advised that day of the new school regulation. They were sent home and suspended until they agreed to return without them (Tinker, p. 504).

Tinker filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa claiming a violation of his First Amendment freedom of expression. The district court upheld the school district’s action as reasonable to prevent disruption of the education process. An evenly . . .

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