Our View: Understanding your First Amendment rights

As students who spend most months of the year in a school building, it is important to understand and recognize your rights as a student, especially given recent protests and action by students around the country.

It is necessary to note that the First Amendment only protects against government censorship, and because public schools are operated by the government, students at public schools have First Amendment speech rights.

Free speech in schools is not a new issue. In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia vs Barnett that students could not be forced to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In our own state, 1969’s Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District tackled the issue of student’s rights in schools and defined them for generations to come.  The case began when some students at a public junior high in Des Moines decided to protest the Vietnam War by wearing a black armband and were suspended for doing so. The case went to the Supreme Court where it was ruled with a 7-2 majority that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

According to the ruling, as long as a student does not “materially disrupt classwork or involve substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others,” students of public schools have the right to speak what they believe, organize and sign petitions, hand out flyers, express themselves through clothing and speak out on social media as long as it does not threaten or disrupt yourself or others within the school.

However, because a walkout can be seen as a disruption of classwork, students can be punished according to school policy.

While taking action on things you believe in is a great way to participate as an active member of society, it is necessary to know the limits of what can be enforced so that you may raise your voice while steering clear of disciplinary action.

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