Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Texas Student Booted From School for Wearing John Edwards T-Shirt

Apparently, it's against the rules in a particular Texas school district to wear t-shirts with political slogans. Read the whole story here.

The question becomes, does the school district have the right (or responsibility) to restrict the clothes worn in order to keep the peace in school? Apparently, the fact that it was an Edwards shirt really didn't matter, the student would have had the same punishment for wearing a Clinton, Obama, Rudy or Thompson shirt.

The parents are talking about a law-suit (of course), claiming freedom of speech. I side with the school district here. If the policy was well documented (I'm assuming here), then they should be allowed to enforce the policy. The parents could sue, but shouldn't allow their son to wear the shirt until the policy is changed.

Somehow parents need to understand that the schools are at a disadvantage. They get complaints when they don't set standards, and then complaints when they do. Parents should support the schools, then work through normal channels to effect changes if needed. Using your kid (or allowing your kid) to effect the changes is just plain wrong. Kids need to respect authority, even if the authority is wrong. There's a better way to correct the wrongs.


David said...

I doubt the district has a chance. They'll have to prove that the T-shirt somehow causes a disruption that other shirts they allow (like sports shirts) don't and I doubt they can.

I'm not usually a huge fan of lawsuits but if it's what it takes for the district to drop that policy than let 'em have it. We should be encouraging kids to take part in the political process.

Randy Barnett said...

Actually, the courts have sided with schools most of the time. "Free speech" has been silenced to support the schools as long as the policy is not one sided.

Kids can participate in the political process through debates, mock elections and numerous other methods.

I'm not saying I favor this kind of censorship, only that 1) I support the schools and 2) There are other ways to change school policy.

Tom said...

The district is in the wrong, regardless of any published or board approved policy. This was established by the Supreme Court in 1969 in Tinker vs Des Moines School Distict. In that case, students had been suspended for wearing black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War. The court ruled that the district did not have the right to limit the free speech of the students as long as that speech did not constitute a "material disruption."

Subsequent cases have supported use of the "material disruption" clause to limit gang-related and drug-related attire, but I seriously doubt it can be used to limit a political statement such as a John Edwards shirt.

Randy Barnett said...

Ok, Tom, you made me think. I'm doing some reseach for another post on this subject, be looking for it...

Tom said...

I'm just remembering what we covered in my school law courses. I think the phrase went something like, "First Amendment rights do not end at the school door."

However, cases such as Morse vs Frederick ("Bong Hits 4 Jesus") seem to take a different approach, by allowing the school to exert control of student speech even if it didn't occur at school. I guess they deemed it "materially disruptive."

Good luck with your research. I'll be curious to see what you find.