Schools Teaching but Not Upholding First Amendment Rights

Topic: School Censorship

Essential Question: Does schools regulating and censoring students’ speech violate the freedom of speech limits to the First Amendment?

Under the First Amendment the government must respect citizens’ right to express themselves; however, under the school speech doctrine, student’s constitutional right to freedom of speech can be suppressed by school authorities. The school’s ability to put limitations on students’ freedom of speech has been challenged countlessly and from many different aspects on the issue such as illegal drug promotion, political speech, hate speech, and religious speech.   The countless cases of discontent with the suppression is due to the court’s inadequate guidelines determining whether schools’ policies violate the constitution.  Due to this, the majority of schools lack knowledge about their limitations to restrict  students’ freedom of speech and rather focus on implementing restrictions to maintain order, avoid controversy, and minimize criticism from the community over promoting students’ rights while creating regulations.  This leads to the primary question.  Should schools value avoiding controversy and disruption over promoting students to practice their constitutional right?

In the  Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier court case, Kuhlmeier argued that the school violated the First Amendment by not publishing an article discussing teen pregnancy.  Kuhlmeier’s argument did not hold up in court. The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment rights of students in schools are not coextensive with the rights of adults outside of public schools and ultimately “educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities, so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”  Since the article was written in a journalism class, apart of the school’s curriculum, the principal was able to deny publication with the reasoning that the pregnant students might have been able to be identified and would have later caused controversy and harm to those students.  The article also discussed sexual activities and birth control, which the principle deemed as inappropriate for the younger kids who attended that school.  Ultimately, by restricting students’ freedom of speech, in this case, allowed the community to avoid controversy and protect the well being and safety of other students at school.

On the other hand, the court case of Zachary Guiles rejected the school’s authorities to restrict Zachary’s First Amendment right to express his political views on a shirt despite the presence of alcohol and illegal drugs on his shirt.  Since the shirt was not encouraging the use of illegal drugs nor alcohol, which is prohibited in schools, but rather using them to convey, in Zachary’s opinion, the inadequacy and stupidity of the president, in the end, the school could not restrict Zachary from wearing the shirt at school because schools do not hold the right to censor political views of students if there is no disruption in the education process.  Since Zachary had wore this shirt many times before without any disruption and the only concern regarding the shirt were the drugs portrayed, the court could not ban his shirt from schools.  This ruling allowed for students to be able to practice their First Amendment right by promoting them to express their views politically.

Ultimately, I believe that schools should minimize their authority to restrict student’s First Amendment rights to better prepare them for the real world.  Schools should only use their power to avoid evident disruption in the classroom and harm such as bullying, encouraging of unsafe practices, and abusive speech.  Schools should encourage a safe environment where students are able to express their views regardless of the popular belief and use it to promote a better society in and out of the classroom by provoking thoughtful and open-minded conversations between students.

 

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