The students from Parkland High School who are leading the #Neveragain movement may have some allies from Des Moines Iowa. Although those allies are now in their 70’s.
I am speaking of the Des Moines High School students who won a Supreme Court case in 1969 that affirmed the fact that public high school students don’t lose all of their First Amendment rights when they enter the school building.
In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker and her 15-year-old brother John, were part of a group of five public school students suspended on Dec. 16, 1965, for wearing black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam.
The Tinkers took their case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor, finding that public high school students have a First Amendment right to protest, so long as their protest doesn’t disrupt school operations or the educational process. And, indeed, aside from the over reaction of some teachers, the Tinker protest had no impact on school operations or the educational process.
So how does Tinker affect students fifty years later who may want to protest our country’s epidemic of mass shootings? Let me answer that question in true lawyer fashion. “It depends.” If students want to wear some apparel to express their views, it’s likely the First Amendment would protect them. I’m not as sure, though about a walkout.
The act of physically standing up and leaving class would, I think, qualify as a disruption to school operations and the educational process. This doesn’t mean a school HAS to discipline students who participate in such an event, but it means a school probably could discipline those students consistently with the First Amendment.
But it’s equally clear that this Facebook post from Curtis Rhodes, a Houston based school superintendent is completely off base:
Please be advised that the Needville [Independent School District] will not allow a student demonstration during school hours for any type of protest or awareness!! Should students choose to do so, they will be suspended from school for 3 days and face all the consequences that come along with an out of school suspension. Life is all about choices and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved…A disruption of the school will not be tolerated…we are here for an education and not a political protest.”
A few comments are in order. One, if he really means what he wrote, his statement is way too broad. Not even the mighty Mr. Rhodes can prohibit “any type of protest.” Perhaps he should sit in on a Civics class. He clearly doesn’t understand the First Amendment (he may be too worried about the Second one).
Two, what is with the two exclamation points after “awareness”? Is he setting school policy or writing about his new crush? Have a little dignity for crying out loud.
Three, this statement offends me as a lawyer, a citizen and a parent: “we are here for an education and not a political protest.” I would argue that conscientious political protest IS part of the the educational process. And if Mr. Rhodes thinks otherwise he needs to reconsider. He shouldn’t be “tinkering” with the First Amendment.