Does a public high school who suspended a public high school student violate her First Amendment free and political speech rights where she wore a controversies anti-Trump, anti-war t-shirt and spoke in adamant tones on political issues and smeared fake blood on her shirt at a current events assembly where a group of students booed and others appealed loudly?
No. The courts gave the school administration the power to control students act to protect public order inside public schools. Student’s smearing of artificial blood on her shirt was certainly offensive, and courts gave the right to the public school to prevent these acts. See Bethel Sch. Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675, 685 (1986). Speaking in loud in a school event in a topics runs counter to the school’s orderly environment and having facts which might reasonably have led school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities may be prevented by the public school. See Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 513, 518 (1969).
Our client, Sarah LeRoy, wishes to know whether she has a good claim against the Syracuse School District for suspending her from high school for ostensibly exercising her First Amendment rights over wearing a controversial t-shirt and smearing artificial blood on another shirt during a school-sponsored event on current events during spring, 2017.
Sarah LeRoy wore a t-shirt in her Public high school to express her political views concerning the current involvement and terrorist deaths of United States personnel in Afghanistan (Anti-Trump t-shirt). On one of the schools’ events, Sarah spoke loudly and waved her hand in the air to emphasize her points. Then, she took out a container of red paint and smeared red paint across the front of her white shirt, no reaction from students. After that, Sarah removed her white, stained shirt, and wore another t-shirt with print and graphics of her opinion (Anti-War t-shirt) and shouted adamantly anti war statements. She received some reactions with her form 10 students, and almost 20 student out of 250 did some reaction against her, like shouting on her to stop talking.
School principal asked Sarah to take of this t-shirt and to not come with this t-shirt again or she will be suspend. She came in the next day with the same t-shirt. The school suspended her.
You have asked that I analyze whether Ms. LeRoy has a good claim against the school district for violating her constitutional rights.
DISCUSSION OF LAW
TS Sarah LeRoy may not succeed in her First Amendment claim against the school district.
GEN The First Amendment of the constitution, through its applicability to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees free speech rights to citizens. U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV. Title 42 U.S.C. §1983 (2012) allows claims against states for damages arising from violations of federal civil rights and for injunctive relief.
FACTORS: Public high school students’ free speech rights are not co-extensive with the general public’s. However, courts afford students reasonable protection to free expression, especially for pure political speech that is not substantially disruptive of the school’s educational mission. See Tinker, 393 U.S. at 513. However, lewd or vulgar, inappropriate expressions of speech may be sanctioned. See Bethel Sch. Dist. No. 403, 478 U.S. at 675.
APPLY: Here, our client, Ms. LeRoy, has a weak points on her arguments, as her acts of expressions were inappropriate to a high school especially because the courts gave the school administration the power to control the students act to protect the public order inside the school.
CONCLUSION: Therefore, Sarah LeRoy may not succeed in her First Amendment claim against the school district.
A. Lewd, Vulgar or Offensive Speech
TS Sarah’s smearing of artificial blood on her shirt may be sanctionable as a vulgar, offensive act, even though it was not necessarily disruptive as no student reaction occurred as a result.
GEN A public school may sanction student activity that is lewd, vulgar, obscene or otherwise unreasonably offensive. Bethel, 478 U.S. at 685.
FACTORS: This depends on the age and maturity of the students, and whether the regulation or sanction is reasonable. See id.; J.A. v. Fort Wayne Cmty. Sch., 2013 WL 4479229 at *8 (N.D. Ind. Aug. 20, 2013).
ILLUSTRATION: For example, one court saw fit to uphold a sanction against a student’s election speech in a school-sponsored assembly that was filled with sexual innuendo in both spoken word and gestures. Bethel, 478 U.S. at 685. In addition, sexually offensive phrases on clothing, such as “I Love Boobies” is also sanctionable. See J.A., 2013 WL 4479229 at *8. Finally, vulgar or inappropriate speech on t-shirts, such as two sailors kissing with the caption “Read My Lips,” “Coed Naked” t-shirts, “Marijuana—Legalize It!,” “Don’t Be A Dick!,” and “Coed Naked Gerbils” is also sanctionable. Pyle v. South Hadley Sch. Comm., 861 F. Supp. 157 (D.Mass.1994).
These courts reasoned that regulation and sanctions were reasonably administered and framed so as to preserve a stable, appropriate learning environment while balancing and considering the students’ First Amendment protections. See Bethel, 478 U.S. at 685; J.A., 2013 WL 4479229 at *8; Pyle, 861 F. Supp. at 167.
APPLY: Sarah’s smearing of artificial blood on her shirt may be sanctionable as a vulgar, offensive act. Like the speech in Bethel, which was filled with sexual innuendo and presented to the class in an assembly, Sarah’s smearing fake blood on her shirt was certainly offensive, but may not have been as offensive as the acts in Bethel. See Bethel, 478 U.S. at 685. Also, Sarah’s smearing blood may not be as offensive to some as the “I Love Boobies” T-shirt in J.A., but could be seen as grotesque by some. See J.A., 2013 WL 4479229 at *8. Finally, her smearing of blood is probably more offensive than the t-shirts and messages in Pyle about Co-ed Naked activities and Marijuana. See Pyle, 861 F. Supp. at 167.
CONCLUSION: Therefore, it is unclear whether Sarah’s blood smearing was sanctionable by law.
B. Possible Materially Disruptive Speech from the Anti-War T-shirt With Crowd Reaction.
TS Sarah’s anti-war t-shirt and statements in the school assembly may be sanctionable as a disruptive speech, even if may be considered as a pure, political speech.
GEN Having facts which might reasonably lead school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of, or material interference with, school activities or any showing that disturbances or disorders on school premises may be prevented by the public school. See Tinker, 393 U.S. at 518.
FACTORS Prohibition by school authorities of expression of one particular opinion must be at least based on evidence that it is necessary to avoid material and substantial interference with school’s work or discipline. Id. at 518. Also, Public school may sanction student activity if it was not related to educational purposes and occur in a public event assembly inside the school. See Guiles ex rel. Lucas v. Marineau, 349 F. Supp. 2d 871 (D. Vt. 2004); Hazelwood Sch. Dist. V. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988).
ILLUSTRATION In order to prevent an interfering, disruptive act from students in a public high school, this action must be caused by something more than mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint. See Tinker, 393 U.S. at 519. There must be a logical reason based on facts that lead the school administration to forecast that there is a conflict might begin (forecast for substantial disruption). And it is determined that the conduct by student, in class or out of it, which for any reason, whether it stems from time, place or type of behavior, materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of rights of others is not immunized by constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. Id. at 513. For example, in Tinker, principals of schools prohibiting wearing of black armbands by students expressing their opinions against Vietnam War while on school facilities, the Supreme Court of United States determined that this prohibition is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment because it is just based on expectation of or apprehension of disruption without any facts or evidence that this conduct may leads to conflict or may violate the educational process. See id.
As well, High schools cannot without reasons prevent the speech that has a political background, but schools can do so if the expressions are in an event held in the school, in this case, it may be regulated and only needs to be reasonably related to educational goals. See Guiles ex rel. Lucas, 349 F. Supp. at 879. In addition, the constitutional rights of students in public school are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings. Tinker, 503 U.S. at 509; Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393, 394 (2007). And that the rights of students must be applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment. Id at 394.
For example, one court held that the school may prohibit student from displaying the images of drugs and alcohol on his clothing, it is clear that student’s T-shirt is not school-sponsored speech. Guiles ex rel. Lucas, 349 F. Supp. at 879. This confirms that the speech in the public event in high school should relate to school environment.
APPLY Thus, we may not base any action against Ms. LeRoy on the Tinker case’s outcome, only its principles, as the court held; when the some students wore armbands to express their political view; that there is no facts which might reasonably have led school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities, and no disturbances or disorders on the school premises in fact occurred. See Tinker, 393 U.S. at 513. Thus, in this case there was not any general event in the high school when they wore those armbands or similarly protested, there was not any reaction from other students against them, so there was not any chance of substantial disruption which may occur.
Sarah’s political statement and t-shirt in a current public event at the school may be sanctionable, because her conduct followed by other objection material hostile conducts from other students. Also, one of the students threw a pen in the day before her conduct; which makes an introduction to fight; and in the same day after her conduct, some student booed her and shouted “traitor,” in the same time others applauded for her. These acts may be considered as an introduction of fighting because it is real material facts (really happened, not just an expectation without evidence). Thus, Sarah’s conduct may reasonably lead for substantial disruption. Unlike the Tinker case, there were no any reaction or conducts happened by other students, nothing happened to lead for expectation that this conduct may violate the educational process (no evidence or fact occurred). Thus, no substantial disruption could be happened nor expected here. See id.
In addition, her conduct may be sanctionable because it was not related to any educational purpose nor school environment, and it happened inside the school, which means it could effect the students inside the school and it was not in “public forum” outside the school. Like in Hazelwood Sch. Dist., when the staff members of the school’s newspaper (students) wrote in the school’s newspaper about school students’ experiences with pregnancy the impact of divorce on students, then the school administration prevent to publish these topics. The Supreme court of United States held that school officials retained right to impose reasonable restrictions on student speech in paper, did not violate students’ speech rights. See Hazelwood Sch. Dist. 484 U.S. at 572. Also, Sarah’s acts may not any way considered as “school-environment acts.” Like in Morse, when the school confiscating banner she reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use. See Morse, 551 U.S. at 393.
CONCLUSION Therefore, Sarah’s disruptive speech from the anti-war t-shirt was sanctionable by law.
Therefore, it is unclear whether a court will uphold Ms. LeRoy’s suspension and refuse to expunge her record.