Re: Sarah LeRoy School District Case
Date: ___, 2018
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.
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[INSERT ALL RELEVANT FACTS HERE…]
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 or may not succeed in her First Amendment claim against the school district.
GEN The First Amendment of the constitutition, 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 v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 513 (1969). However, lewd or vulgar, inappropriate expressions of speech may be sanctioned. Bethel Sch. Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).
APPLY: Here, [apply quickly the legal ideas to our facts—very short!!]
CONCLUSION: Therefore, Sarah LeRoy may or 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 or may not be santionable 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 or may not 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 blook 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.
GEN Public High School students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate. Tinker, 393 U.S. at 506. In fact, the Supreme Court held in Tinker that public high schools have the right to regulate school speech where there is a reasonable forecast of substantial disruption of the school’s educational purpose or mission. Id. at 513.
FACTORS Political speech is entitled to great protection. And symbolic political speech, which is non-verbal speech, is “akin” to pure political speech and entitled to comprehensive First Amendment protections. Id. at 504. Undifferentiated fear of disruption is insufficient to warrant squelching free speech in public high schools, and does not merit suspension. Id. at 508.
ILLUS In Tinker, public high school children wore black armbands on their arms to protest the Vietnam War. It was a symbolic silent protest and no substantial disturbances occurred. Nevertheless, the students were suspended. Id. at x. The Supreme Court held that [holding]. Id. at x. It further reasoned that [reasoning]. Id. at x.
Similarly, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that, where a public high school student wore an offensive t-shirt that criticized the president of the United States, it was not substantially disruptive under the Tinker standard, and therefore was not an offense for which a student can be suspended. See: Guiles v. Marineau, 461 F.3d 620, 624 (2d Cir. 2004). The Guiles court followed Tinker’s reasoning. Id. at 330.
Therefore, it is unclear whether a court will uphold Ms. LeRoy’s suspension and refuse to expunge her record.