In regards to the First Amendment’s protection of student speech rights, I believe there are certain constitutional guarantees given to public school officials which affect the interpretation of an individual’s right to free speech while on school premises. I will argue that first amendment rights are different in a public school setting than they are outside of school property. Relevant cases that will be used to support this argument include Tinker v. Demoines Indep. Community School District (1969), Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988), and Morse v. Frederick (2007).
The first significant court case involving the speech rights of students, Tinker v. Demoines, defined for the nation what the Court, and I, do not consider to be speech that constitutes clear and present danger (or, real and immediate danger). In my opinion, the Court was correct in agreeing that because the act of wearing the armbands neither disrupted school activities, nor had the affect of bombarding the rights of other students, the Constitution holds that this form of speech is protected by the First Amendment. Had the wearing of the armbands during school caused a rioting outbreak or other form of disruption from the normal flow of the school day, I believe the school officials would have had the right to restrict that form of speech. Seventeen years later, the courts would again be faced with the difficult task of interpreting and enforcing the Constitution’s definition of student speech rights in another case of slightly different circumstances.
The Supreme Court, I believe, rightfully ruled in favor of the Hazelwood School District in the 1988 case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier in order to ensure the appropriate teaching of, caring and providing for the student body. I agree with the judges who consented that Principal Reynolds, of Hazelwood High School, was justifiable in his decision to delete two articles of concern from the school newspaper. In the case of the Hazelwood newspaper, Spectrum, I agree that the words of the articles written about pregnancy and divorce would indeed have presented legitimate concerns within the young student body, thus instilling the principal’s right to dispose of them. The key factor that underlined the majority’s ruling was the fact that the newspaper was sponsored by the school. This deems the school responsible for every aspect of the newspaper, so if there are articles printed that could possibly end up in the hands of a high school students’ younger sibling and in any way cause them emotional harm, the school would be at fault. Like Justice White, I think that the articles printed in the Spectrum would have substantially interfered with the work of the school and impinged upon the rights of other students.The Supreme Court faces tough decisions regarding the first amendment’s protection of student’s speech rights just as much today as they did in the days of Tinker and Hazelwood.
The most recent of such cases was decided on June 25, 2007.
Chief Justice Roberts, in the opinion of the Court, ruled in favor of the Juneau School Board’s punishment of Joseph Frederick in the 2007 case Morse v. Frederick. Roberts drew on the Court’s earlier holding that, “the constitutional rights of students in public schools are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings.” With this in mind, the Court ruled that the high school student Joseph Frederick encouraged illegal drug use on school property at a school sanctioned event, and was thereby properly reprimanded by Principle Morse. I firmly agree with Justice Roberts’ decision to interpret the School Board’s policy on advocating the use of substances that are illegal to minors as being completely constitutional because this policy in no way infringes upon the free speech rights of students. On thecontrary, students that violate this rule will have participated in reprimanding the rights of other students because in the act of advocating the use of drugs, a student is contributing to the downfall of his peer’s educational and vocational future. It has been proven, in Robert’s ruling, that drug abuse can cause severe and permanent damage to the health and well-being of young people. The effects of a drug-infested school are visited not just upon the users, but upon the entire student body and faculty, because the educational process is disrupted, according to Justice Roberts. The most important point to note in this case is the fact that the banner Frederick held was most certainly disrupting to the educational process because it was during a school function that it was displayed. First amendment rights are different in a public school setting than they are outside of school property, and because of that, administrators rightfully hold a tighter rope on what students can and cannot say. It will be interesting to see how the Court upholds their original decision in Tinker in years to come because every time this issue arises, as this essay clearly defined, some Justices misinterpret it or try to stretch out the constitutionality of its precedence by ignoring the circumstances that need to be met to uphold student speech rights.