A federal appeals court in New York today upheld the decision of a lower court that Lewis B. Mills high school, in Burlington, Connecticut, was within its rights to discipline a senior student for calling school administrators "douche bags" in a blog post she wrote off school grounds. That's right, judges in Second U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan had a long conversation about "douche bags." So did judges (including now-supreme-court justice Sonya Sotomayor) in a previous ruling in 2007.
Daily Intel points out that Doniger "is once again in the headlines for using a derogatory term that went out of style in 2009." The students on the front lines of free speech issues at school are there for saying, wearing, or doing, ever-goofier things. Which is not to say that their speech isn't worth saving; it's just that it's tough to focus on constitutional principles when the cast of Entourage is dancing through your head. This is the way these things go.
Bong Hits 4 Jesus: In probably the best-remembered recent student-stunt court case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that an Alaska high school could discipline a student for unfurling a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" at a school-sponsored event off-campus. The argument: That the banner's meaning fell within the parameters of school rules banning speech that advocates drug use.
Abortion: Growing . . . Growing . . . Gone: A sixth-grader in California was sent to the principal's office for wearing a shirt with this slogan to school in 2008. She and her mom have sued the school district, but no ruling has been made yet (at least none has been reported in the news). This is more overtly political than the other examples, but it's notable because in California, as Bob Egelko points out, they actually have strong free speech protections for students. That means, potentially, that the "douche bags" comment may actually be acceptable. Likely, the anti-abortion sentiment will be found so as well.
GOD IS DEAD: It's ironic that a school would want to curb a student's quoting of Friedrich Nietzsche, but that's what apparently happened to Justin Surber. He was not told that he couldn't wear the shirt bearing the above quote to school, but when it came to yearbook time, the school wouldn't take his picture with it on. The argument here was that Surber's right to free speech wasn't included in the publication of the yearbook.
American flag T-shirts: The ACLU took one of its trademark counterintuitive stances when it asserted that five students in Morgan Hill, California, were wrongly sent home after they wore American flag T-shirts to school on Cinco de Mayo. Yes, it's a tacky way to weigh in on the issue of immigration, but the school's contention that disciplining the students was a "safety issue," was too much for the ACLU, which said: "The students' patriotic display was particularly meaningful because of the context, and their right to express their patriotism in light of that context must be honored."
Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I've ever met!: In a bit of a landmark case for student speech on Facebook, Katherine Evans sued her Florida high school for disciplining her after she made a Facebook page with the above name. The school accused her of cyber-bullying and disruptive behavior. Evans created the page, posted Phelps's picture, and invited students to "express your feelings of hatred."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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