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October 19, 2010

Probable Violation Of First Amendment At Virginia High School

And the irony, of course, is that it happened at a school called called "Liberty High School".

Administrators at a Bedford County school say they were forced to intervene in a student protest Tuesday morning.

20 students showed up at Liberty High School with tape over their mouths. The group was demonstrating against abortion.

When the principal learned what was happening, the protesters were asked to remove their tape.

The students were allowed to continue a silent protest for the rest of the day, once they removed the tape.

School spokesman Ryan Edwards says administrators got involved because the visible protest was viewed as a distraction in the classroom.

Now here's where the problem comes in -- the argument that the visible protest aspect (the tape) constituted a "distraction" is utter nonsense, especially in light that the silent protest was permitted to continue unimpeded. After all, let's consider the relevant Supreme Court precedent -- Tinker v. Des Moines. The following is the summary of the decision that was prepared by the Supreme Court when the decision was handed down.

Petitioners, three public school pupils in Des Moines, Iowa, were suspended from school for wearing black armbands to protest the Government's policy in Vietnam. They sought nominal damages and an injunction against a regulation that the respondents had promulgated banning the wearing of armbands. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that the regulation was within the Board's power, despite the absence of any finding of substantial interference with the conduct of school activities. The Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, affirmed by an equally divided court. Held:

1. In wearing armbands, the petitioners were quiet and passive. They were not disruptive and did not impinge upon the rights of others. In these circumstances, their conduct was within the protection of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth. Pp. 505-506.

2. First Amendment rights are available to teachers and students, subject to application in light of the special characteristics of the school environment. Pp. 506-507.

3. A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 507-514.

DISPOSITION: 383 F.2d 988, reversed and remanded. [504]

Now tell me, how does tape over the mouth in any way rise to the standard set in this case -- "substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others" -- in light of the fact that the tape would be in no way more disruptive than the black armbands in Tinker? It appears quite obvious to me, a legal layman who is also a professional educator, that the tape would not do so. It is therefore my considered opinion that the principal fundamentally erred in the decision to require that the tape be removed while permitting the silent protest to continue.

Indeed, I'd go a step further and argue that if the school administration were to argue that the tape did, in fact, rise to the level of a "substantial interference with school discipline", it's argument is completely undermined by the fact the silent protest itself would be even more of a disruption due to the need for students to fully engage in the pedagogical process in a high school classroom. To argue that the silence did not materially disrupt the classroom but the tape did strikes me as fatuous.





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Comments on Probable Violation Of First Amendment At Virginia High School

I thought "the pedagogical process" was how you determined whether or not your Labrador Retriever was from a good blood line...lol

|| Posted by T F Stern, October 20, 2010 09:17 AM ||

First amendment rights were indeed violated in this case. The outcome of the students intended message most likely did not have the same affect as the tape would have had. Instead, the administratorsí goal was to 'water down' their message.

|| Posted by Clay Boggess, October 20, 2010 11:35 AM ||
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