Freedom of Expression

Jordan B. - LLI Toledo

Imagine if you were restricted on everything  you said. Whether that be to friends ,family, or even on social media (all outside of school). While this might not  be exactly the case, many high schools are limiting students rights outside of school, which is totally unacceptable. Students should not be punished in school for what they say outside of school, and outside of school boundaries or property.

Students should be able to express their first amendment rights (freedom of speech) whether that be through art, music, or the clothes they wear. Instead, they are being suspended or expelled just because the schools don’t like what they’re saying or the language they’re using.

At one school, senior Taylor Bell “composed, sang, and recorded a rap song which he published for over 1,300 friends”(google scholar). He wrote this song ”criticizing two coaches at school- Coach Wildmon and Coach Rainey - alleging  both of them had improper contact with female students”(google scholar). Though his language might not have been considered mild to the school, he was trying to do a good thing and expose two coaches at his school for their inappropriate behavior, and express how he felt about it. This behavior includes looking down their skirts and other things that an adult, let alone a teacher, should not be doing with a teenager. But instead of talking to Taylor about the behavior of the coaches, he was suspended for exercising his right to freedom of speech outside of school property or school events.

This is not the first case of this injustice and it won’t be the last. In 1986 a student was suspended for speech that was deemed offensively lewd and obscene under the school’s rules (Tinker v. Des Moines, referencing Bethel School Distrcit v. Fraser). If the same speech was outside the school environment the student could not have been penalized. The US  supreme court upheld the suspension of a high school senior and ruled that the first Amendment did not prevent the school district from disciplining him saying that this student used this language at school-  he wouldn’t have been if he said it outside of school. This proves that what Taylor Bell said about those coaches outside of school was not enough for him to be punished, and he was protected by the first Amendment.

What’s next? Are they going to start suspending people for drawings, or paintings, or memes?

 For instance, what if a teenager was at home just joking around and he made a picture of someone shooting the principle 20 times with a pistol, then him getting up, and getting ran over by a stampede of animals? He wasn’t trying to be mean to the principal, it didn’t affect the principal’s life in any way, and he did it at home. The kids at school might have laughed at him behind his back, but it didn’t cause any disruptions in the classroom. The teenager was protected by freedom of speech because he did it at home, he wasn’t at school or at a school related event, it didn’t cause any disruptions, and the principal’s life wasn’t affected. Does the student deserve to be suspended for a simple joke. The school board might say it was inappropriate and because it embarrassed the principal the kid should be suspended, but the fact of the matter is, it was well within his rights.

To sum up, even if you consider something someone made to be inappropriate, if it is within the boundaries of the things mentioned above, it is protected by the first amendment. After all, is it really okay to suspend a kid over a picture used as a joke? What if the roles were reversed and this was you- would you really say that it was worth suspending over?


Sources Considered:

  • Bell v. Itawamba Cty. Sch. Bd., 859 F. Supp. 2d 834, 836 (N.D. Miss. 2012).
  • Wallenstein, Andrew. "The Hip-Hop Case the Supreme Court Should Reject." Web blog post. Variety. 22 Feb. 2016. 
  • Liptak, Adam. "Hip Hop Stars Support Mississippi Rapper in First Amendment Case." Web blog post. Sidebar. The New York Times Company, 20 Dec. 2015. 
  • Stern, Mark, J. "Judges Have No Idea What to Do About Student Speech on the Internet." Web blog post. Future Tense. Slate, 18 Feb. 2016.  
  • Crowley, Brian. "Supreme Court Refuses to Provide Clarity on Discipline for Off-Campus, Online Student Speech." Web blog post. Education Law Insights. Lexology, 29 February 2016. 
  • "School was Right to Expel Student Over Violent Poetry." eSchoolNews. Eschool Media Sites. 1 Aug. 2001.