Schools have the right to restrict students’ actions

This week, The Eagle’s opinion writers are taking on the suspension of several New York high school students who were suspended for “Tebowing” in their school’s hallways (see Page 6). Since this imitation of the football star’s sideline prayer falls neatly into the category of self-expression, The Eagle’s editorial board felt it prudent to discuss the legal realities of free speech for students in public schools.

The most important Supreme Court decision affecting student free speech is Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

In December 1965, a trio of Des Moines students attended school wearing black arm bands in protest of the Vietnam War. After being suspended, the students filed a suit that was carried to the Supreme Court.

The court ruled in favor of the students, contending that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The decision established that students enjoy the right to free speech during school, so long as the speech does not cause a distraction to the learning environment. Other Supreme Court decisions, though, have tempered this right. Specifically, Bethel School District v. Fraser.

In April 1983, a Washington high school student named Matthew Fraser was suspended for delivering a speech to the student body that made extensive use of sexual innuendo. Fraser’s suit against the school reached the Supreme Court three years later, where a 7-2 ruling upheld Fraser’s suspension and established an important limitation on student free speech: that schools may restrict speech that conflicts with their basic education mission.

A bevy of other court decisions have refined and limited free speech in schools, but students in public schools still enjoy substantial freedom of expression. This fact is often overlooked by students, their parents, and administrators.

The Eagle’s editorial board urges that citizens, to more accurately and appropriately assess situations such as the “Tebowing” suspensions, learn and understand the legal specifics of student free speech and its many protections and limitations.


Comments are closed.

Recent Editorial Articles

We stand with Paris

Nov. 19, 2015

“Ils ont les armes. On les emmerde, on a le champagne!”

The French weekly satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, published a sarcastic cover in response to Friday’s Paris attacks.

Abstain from abstaining

Nov. 12, 2015

Monday night, Deena Kennell, adviser to Student Senate, explained to the senators what Robert’s Rules says on abstaining from a vote. Robert’s Rules are the parliamentary procedure rules Senate says they’ll follow.

NSCS policy needs revision

Nov. 5, 2015

As editors of a newspaper, it is not our job to babysit the college. It is not our job to make the college look bad or good. Our duty is to inform our readers about what is happening. Whatever it may be, a teacher earning tenure, or a coach under investigation. The public deserves to know what is going on around them.

Senate advisers need to reevaluate obligations

Oct. 29, 2015

In our Oct. 8 edition of The Eagle, our editorial called for Senate advisers to take a larger role in Student Senate activities. We asked advisers to provide more advice and to help guide Student Senate.

Student Senate needs guidance

Oct. 8, 2015

Last week, Senate allocated $5,500 to Chi Alpha and Revive in order to help the clubs fund a group of Christian artist to come to campus for a free concert. The allocation was made after Senate hosted a public forum to hear students’ opinions.