Two Supreme Court cases in the past 50 years have shaped the debate regarding students’ First Amendment rights. And as times have changed, the Court has been faced with a broad range of scenarios that continue to impact students’ rights on multiple levels.
Tinker v. Des Moines – freedom of expression
The first major case was in 1965, when three teens wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. School officials objected, but the students refused to remove the armbands. The case, Tinker v. Des Moines, reached the Court, which sided with the students, mostly. The majority opinion cautioned that First Amendment guarantees must be balanced with a school’s needs, and not disrupt or interfere with its educational mission.
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier – freedom of the press
Another type of freedom — of the press — was at the heart of the 1988 case, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. Student reporters and editors of a high school newspaper in St. Louis were prohibited from publishing two stories, one about teen pregnancy, and the other about the impact of divorce. The Court ruled school papers are not a public forum in which anyone can voice an opinion, because, in the case of Hazelwood, it was “a supervised learning experience for students interested in journalism.”
Similar to Tinker, a federal court in 2010 ruled in favor of a high school student who had been prohibited from distributing anti-abortion material and wearing an arm band to protest abortion.
And, in some cases, the First Amendment also has been applied to protect a student’s choice of dress. But not necessarily the type of clothing, hair styles, or deportment.
New Jersey v. T.L.O. – freedom from search & seizure
The Court also has sided with students, in part, in the realm of illegal searches. The issue first came before the Court in 1985 in New Jersey v. T.L.O, which examined to what extent a public school can search a student, the student’s locker, backpack, purse, or other possessions.
The TLO initials represent one of the girls caught smoking in the bathroom, leading to the principal discovering cigarettes and drug-related items in her possession, and subsequently suspended her. She sued, claiming the principal conducted an unreasonable search, and the Court agreed. Citing the Fourth Amendment, Justice Byron White also noted, “equally indisputable is the proposition that the 14th Amendment protects the rights of students against encroachment by public school officials.”
Board of Education v. Earls – drug tests
In Board of Education v. Earls, a divided Court restricted students’ rights regarding drug testing. The 5-4 decision held that an Oklahoma school policy of randomly drug testing students who participated in “competitive, non-athletic extracurricular activities” was Constitutional.
Immigration, too, has entered into the fray. Two years ago the ACLU sued five New Jersey school districts with policies allegedly discriminating against students based on their parents’ immigration status.
The ACLU also is actively involved in protecting the rights of LGBTQ students, and the rights of pregnant students, and students with children — all of whom have a right to education and access to school activities.
It’s doubtful the early Constitutional Convention participants were mindful of school newspapers, transgender students, or drug use, but as the society continues to evolve, so too does the legal landscape regulating what is guaranteed within the Constitution’s framework.
Source: AVVO Stories