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Fighting for Students’ Rights through the Courts

Many of the rights that students have in school today are the result of students fighting for those rights in the court system. Whenever students have won their cases, they have made it easier for other students to speak up when our rights are violated.

Jump to court cases concerning:
Corporal Punishment
Dress Codes and Uniforms
Free Speech
Pledge of Allegiance
Search and Seizure
Student Clubs

Corporal Punishment

Winning Cases Losing Cases
Ingraham v. Wright (Supreme Court, 1977): Two high school students, James Ingraham and Roosevelt Andrews, sued their school alleging they were deprived of their Constitutional rights after being struck with a paddle. The Court concluded that the Eighth Amendment was “inapplicable” in school settings as it has traditionally been used to protect those convicted of crimes, not students. However, Justice White, along with Justices Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens, dissented, noting that the purpose of the Eighth Amendment could be applied to students as it does not expressly mention that it only applies to criminals. The goal of the Eighth Amendment, they argued, is to prohibit punishments deemed inhumane, no matter how grievous the offense committed and therefore, similar punishments cannot be logically imposed on persons guilty of minor infractions, such as breaches of school discipline.
Serafin v. School of Excellence in Education (Fifth Circuit, 2007): Jessica Serafin, a high school senior, was hit with a paddle without her consent and sustained a wrist injury due to her attempt to block the paddle. She sued her school for violation of due process rights, but the court found in favor of the school.

Dress Codes and Uniforms

Winning Cases Losing Cases
Richards v. Thurston (First Circuit Court, 1970): Robert Richards Jr. refused to cut his hair in compliance with his school’s dress code and was expelled. He sued his school and the court ruled in his favor declaring that “freedom to wear one’s hair at a certain length or to wear a beard is constitutionally protected, even though it expresses nothing but individual taste” that “compelled conformity to conventional standards of appearance” does not “seem a justifiable part of the educational process.” Davenport Davenport v. Randolph County Board of Education (Eleventh Circuit, 1984): The court upheld school’s grooming regulations as a “reasonable means of furthering the school board’s undeniable interest in teaching hygiene, instilling discipline, asserting authority and compelling uniformity.”
Jeglin v. San Jacinto Unified School District (Central District Court of California, 1993): The court struck down a prohibition on the wearing of any sports apparel in a junior high school.

Free Speech

Winning Cases Losing Cases
Tinker v. Des Moines (U.S. Supreme Court, 1969): In 1965, a group of students in Des Moines, Iowa decided to wear black armbands to school in order to protest the war in Vietnam. The principals of the Des Moines schools created a rule prohibiting the wearing of these armbands, threatened suspension if students refused to remove them. Christopher Eckhardt and John and Mary Beth Tinker all wore their armbands to school and were sent home. The students sued the school district for violating their right of expression and sought an injunction to stop the school from issuing punishment. The case ended up at the US Supreme Court who, in a 7-2 decision, decided that the armbands represented a type of speech that protected by the First Amendment. The Court also stated that “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” and that “In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school, as well as out of school, are “persons” under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect. Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser (U.S. Supreme Court, 1986): At a school assembly Matthew Fraser nominated a fellow student for elective office with a speech that seemed to be a graphic sexual metaphor. The U.S. Supreme Court found that the school was just with its discipline, because the First Amendment does not prevent schools from prohibiting the type of vulgar and lewd speech that is inconsistent with the course of public school education.
Scoville v. Board of Education of Joliet Township (Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, 1970): Two students were expelled for publishing a newspaper that contained editorials critical of the school and the principal and vulgar language. The court condemned the school’s decision as a violation of the students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (U.S. Supreme Court, 1988): In this precedent-setting case, the Court ruled that schools are able to set certain standards for student speech that is published and disseminated under their sponsorship.
Thomas v. Board of Education, Granville Central School Dist. (Second Circuit Court of Appeals, 1979): Students created and published an independent newspaper that school officials deemed “obscene” and punished them for it. The court ruled that the school could not punish student for distributing material off-campus. Morse v. Frederick (U.S. Supreme Court, 2007): During a school trip to watch the Olympic Torch Relay, a high school student displayed a banner saying “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” and was subsequently punished. The court ruled against the student, stating that the speech on the banner was not political in nature, and that its content could reasonably be viewed as promoting illegal drug use.
Chandler v. McMinnville School Dist. (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, 1992): The court decided students cannot be punished for wearing buttons with the word “scab,” even if the word can be considered insulting. Melton v. Corley R. Young et al. (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, 1972): A high school student was suspended for wearing an emblem representing a Confederate Flag on the sleeve of his jacket. The Sixth Circuit found that the school principal’s decision was correct as the student’s actions would lead to substantial disorder in the school and thus impede the learning process.
Jeglin v. San Jacinto Unified School Dist. (Central District Court of California, 1993): A federal district court in California struck down a prohibition on the wearing of any sports apparel in a junior high school. Broussard v. School Board of the City of Norfolk (Eastern District Court of Virginia, 1992): A student refused to change out of a shirt printed with the words “Drugs Suck!” and was suspended for a day. The court found that the word “suck” was vulgar and that its use in the school was disruptive.
Beussink v. Woodland R-IV School Dist.(Eastern District of Missouri, 1998): A high school student was suspended for creating a personal web site on his own computer where he used vulgar language to attack his teachers and school officials. The court ruled that school officials had violated the student’s First Amendment Rights because his speech had not caused a substantial disruption to the school environment. Boucher v. School Board of the School District of Greenfield (Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, 1998): A student published and distributed an independent newspaper with an article giving instructions on how to hack the school’s computers and was subsequently expelled. The court ruled that the school was reasonable in believing that the article would cause a significant disruption.
Saxe v. State College Area School Dist.(Third Circuit Court of Appeals, 2001): The court found the the school district’s anti-harassment policy as “unconstitutionally overbroad.” Henerey v. City of St. Charles (Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, 1999): A student was disqualified from the election for class president as he had passed out condoms to accompany his campaign slogan. The court ruled that the school had a responsibility to maintain decorum and to minimize any threats to its educational mission.
Kincaid v. Gibson (Sixth Circuit, 2001): A student editor for the Kentucky State University’s yearbook made various changes to the yearbook, both in content and design. The Vice President of Student Affairs objected to the changes and prevented them. The court ruled that the University administration violated the First Amendment rights of the student editors, because the yearbook was a limited public forum and that the school’s actions were arbitrary and unreasonable. Boroff v. Van Wert City Board of Education (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, 2000): A high school was allowed to ban t-shirts depicting Marilyn Manson because the court asserted that the school was right in prohibiting clothing that promoted “values that are so patently contrary to the school’s educational mission.
Sypniewski v. Warren Hills Regional Bd. of Education (Third Circuit, 2002): The court decided that students cannot be punished for wearing a “You Might be a Redneck If…” shirt. Cole v. Oroville Union High School Dist. (Ninth Circuit, 2000): Two students were invited to give graduation speeches. When they submitted the speeches for approval, the principal found the speeches to be proselytizing and sectarian and the students were asked to change them. The court ruled that the principal did not violate the students’ right to freedom of speech, because they limited the speech in the graduation speeches in order to avoid violating the Establishment Clause.
Newsom v. Albemarle County School Board (Fourth Circuit, 2003): A student cannot be punished for wearing a shirt that reads “NRA Shooting Sports Camp.” West v. Derby Unified School Dist. (Tenth Circuit. 2000): A student was suspended after drawing the confederate flag on a piece of paper despite the school’s recently instituted harassment and intimidation policy. The court upheld the school’s decision, arguing that the student’s actions could have led to a substantial disruption of school discipline.
Dean v. Utica Community Schools (Eastern District Court of Michigan, 2004): At Utica High School a student member of the school newspaper published an article about a lawsuit against her school district involving a complaint against the district’s bus garage. The students were told to remove the article due to the ongoing litigation and because the article was based on “unreliable sources” and “highly inaccurate.” The court ruled that the student newspaper was an example of a limited public forum and that the school had censored the article in its own interest, by preventing the expression of its viewpoint, and then claiming it was inaccurate. J.S. v. Bethlehem Area School Dist. (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, 2002): A middle school student created a website that made derogatory and threatening comments about his teacher and principal, which led to his expulsion. The court ruled in favor of the school and found the comments disruptive and threatening despite occurring off-campus.
Guiles Guiles v. Marineau (Second Circuit, 2006): The court defended a student’s right to wear a shirt depicting George W. Bush with the body of a chicken surrounded by oil rigs, dollar signs, cocaine, and alcohol with the words “Chicken-Hawk-In-Chief.” Lassonde v. Pleasanton (Ninth Circuit, 2003): A student that was invited to speak at graduation was asked to remove “overtly proselytizing comments” as they would violate the Establishment Clause. The court found that the school did not violate the student’s rights as the school’s refusal to allow a sectarian speech was necessary to avoid violating the Establishment Clause.
Griffith v. Butte School Dist. (Supreme Court of Montana, 2010): When Renee Griffith submitted her graduation speech for approval, she was asked to remove all religious references. When she refused, she was prevented from speaking. The court ruled that Griffith’s speech was the expression of her own views and not that of the school and therefore didn’t violate the Establishment Clause. Hosty v. Carter (Seventh Circuit, 2005): The editor of Governors State University’s student newspaper was told that any subsequent issues would need to be approved by a school administrator, because it had published stories and editorials that were critical of the administration. However, there was already a policy in place that specified that the student newspaper staff could determine the content of their publications without censorship or prior approval. The court ruled against the students, determining that because the newspaper had not previously been established as a public forum like under the Hazelwood standard, and was in fact a nonpublic forum subsidized by public funds then it was open to reasonable regulation.
Barnes v. Zaccari (Eleventh Circuit, 2012): A college student used his personal Facebook account to protest a plan to construct a parking garage on campus. The university president began an investigation into the student’s’ academic records, medical history, religion, and registration, and had the student expelled from the University. The court found that the university president was personally liable for the violation of the student’s right to due process. Doninger v. Niehoff (Second Circuit, 2008): Administrators barred a high school student from running in a student election after the student criticized administrators online. The court held that the student’s speech was not protected, because it foreseeably created a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment, and that the school could regulate the off-campus speech given its nexus and link to the actual school environment.
B.H. and K.M. v. Easton Area School District (Third Circuit, 2013): The court upheld an injunction preventing the Easton Area School District from enforcing a ban on the popular breast cancer awareness bracelets that said “I heart boobies.” Corder v. Lewis Palmer School Dist. (Tenth Circuit, 2009): A high school student gave a speech, different than the one she submitted, that was full of religious references at her commencement ceremony and was made to apologize. The court ruled that valedictory speeches constitute school-sponsored speech and that a school district is entitled to review the content of these speeches.
Burge v. Colton School Dist.(U.S. District Court of Oregon, 2015): A student sent a Facebook messages to his friends, stating that his health teacher needed to be shot. When the messages were reported to the principal, the student was suspended. The student sues and the court concluded that his off-campus Facebook messages were protected because they had not caused a substantial disruption to the school environment. A.M., ex rel. McAllum. v. Cash, (Fifth Circuit, 2009): The court upheld that the school’s ban on the Confederate flag ban was constitutional.
Yeasin v. University of Kansas (Court of Appeals of Kansas 2015): A student at the University of Kansas posted several threatening tweets aimed at his former girlfriend, who had a protection order against him and was expelled as a result. The court ruled that the University did not have the jurisdiction to punish Yeasin for his off-campus behavior. Palmer ex rel. Palmer v. Waxahachie Independent School Dist. (Fifth Circuit, 2009): A school was taken to court because it banned all written messages on student clothing, but because the ban was “content-neutral” it was upheld.
S.J.W. ex rel. Wilson v. Lee’s Summit School Dist. (Eighth Circuit, 2012): Two students created a blog that discussed events at their school. It also contained sexist and racist content and caused a disturbance in the school when it went viral. The court ruled that student speech which disrupts the school environment is not protected by the First Amendment.
Wynar v. Douglas County School Dist. (Ninth Circuit, 2013): A high school student was suspended for sending MySpace messages to his friends that mentioned weapons he had in his possession and the students he intended to kill. The court ruled in favor of the school, stating that school officials may restrict speech if they predict that it is likely to cause substantial disruption to school activities.
Bradford v. Norwich City School Dist. (Northern District Court of New York, 2014): While at home, a student sent text messages to another student, expressing a desire to harm a third student and was suspended. The court ruled the school had not violated the student’s First Amendment rights and asserted that schools have the right to prohibit speech that can disrupt the work and discipline of the school.
Dariano vs. Morgan Hill Unified School Dist. (Ninth Circuit, 2014): On Cinco de Mayo, three students wore clothing to school that depicted the U.S. flag. Upon hearing word that threats of violence were made, the school authorities asked the students to turn their shirts inside-out. The court ruled that the school’s fears that the clothing could incite violence were legitimate.
Bell v. Itawamba County School Board (Fifth Circuit, 2015): A high school student created and posted a rap song that criticized two school coaches at for harassing students. The song was composed off-campus and posted online from his home computer, but the student was suspended. The court ruled that the student’s speech would have caused a substantial disruption to the school environment and was not protected by the First Amendment.
Keefe v. Adams (Eighth Circuit, 2016): A nursing student at Central Lakes College was expelled for Facebook posts that, according to the college, violated the professional standards students were instructed to follow. The court ruled that the college had the right to hold students to the standards of their intended profession.

Pledge of Allegiance

Winning Cases Losing Cases
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (Supreme Court, 1943): West Virginia students Gathie and Marie Barnett were expelled for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They, along with other students, sued their schools and the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to compel students to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Frazier v. Winn (Eleventh Circuit Court, 2009): High school student Cameron Frazier challenged a Florida law that required any student refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to receive parental permission first. The court upheld the law stating that “protecting the rights of parents on some educational issues is sufficient to justify the restriction of some students’ freedom of speech.”
Lipp v. Morris (Third Circuit Court, 1978): High school student Deborah Lipp was told that she had to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance or be punished. She sued her school and the court found that students are allowed to sit down during the Pledge.
Holloman v. Harland (Eleventh Circuit Court, 2001): Michael Holloman sued his school for punishing him for raising his fist during the Pledge of Allegiance, which he did in support of a fellow student that had been forced to apologize for not participating in the Pledge the day before. The court ruled that Michael “had the constitutional right to raise his fist during the Pledge of Allegiance so long as he did not disrupt the educational process or the class in any real way.”
Lane v. Owens (District Court of Colorado, 2003): Three Colorado students fought a Colorado law that required students to recite the Pledge unless they objected on religious grounds and had parental permission. They successfully won an injunction against the law, which was changed a year later to allow anyone to opt-out.

Search and Seizure

Winning Cases Losing Cases
Safford Unified School District v. Redding (US Supreme Court, 2009): An eighth grader at Safford Middle School, was strip-searched by school officials on the basis of a tip by another student that she might have ibuprofen on her person. The Court held that the strip search was not justified nor was the scope of intrusion reasonably related to the circumstances. New Jersey v. T.L.O. (US Supreme Court, 1985): School officials searched the purse of a high school student on the suspicion that she may have cigarettes. The school then found marijuana, which they reported to the police. T.L.O. was arrested for possession and the Court denied her motion to suppress evidence discovered in the search.
Burnham v. West (Eastern District Court of Virginia, 1987): The odor of marijuana in the hall does not provide reasonable suspicion to search all students’ book bags, purses, and pockets. Vernonia v. Acton (U.S. Supreme Court, 1995) The Supreme Court upheld a school district policy which required students to consent to random drug testing as a condition for participation in interscholastic athletics. The Court considered such factors as: the athletes’ relatively low expectation of privacy, the fact that the athletes were leaders in the school’s drug culture, which was “in a state of rebellion”; and that the tests were “directed more narrowly to drug use by athletes,” for whom the risk of harm was “particularly high.”
Brooks v. East Chambers Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist. (Fifth Circuit, 1991): A group of students sued their school for engaging in random drug testing of students wishing to participate in extracurricular activities. The court ruled that the school did not have justification for implementing the policy as the drug testing was intrusive and there was no evidence of drug problem or greater safety risk among those subject to the test. Board of Education v. Earls (U.S. Supreme Court, 2002): The Supreme Court upheld a policy requiring all middle and high school students to consent to a drug test if they wanted to participate in extracurricular activities. This case set the current federal standard, which allows schools broad authority in administering drug tests to their students.
A.S. v. State of Florida (Second District Court of Appeals of Florida, 1997): Four students huddled together, one with money in his hand and another with his hand in his pocket, does not provide reasonable suspicion for a search of pocket contents. Florida v. D.S. (Third District Court of Appeals of Florida, 1996): The mere presence of a sworn law enforcement officer when a school administrator asks a student to empty his pockets does not trigger the need for probable cause.
Willis v. Anderson Comm. Sch. Corp. (Seventh Circuit, 1998): A school’s policy of drug testing any student who was suspended or violated certain rules was held unconstitutional and that fighting wasn’t enough to evidence to cause reasonable suspicion of substance abuse. Bridgman v. New Trier High School District (Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, 1997): An experienced drug counselor’s observation of a student who appears distracted and has bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils justifies taking the student’s blood pressure and pulse reading to determine whether he has been using marijuana.
B.C. v. Plumas Unified School District (Ninth Circuit, 1999): A school’s policy of using drug-sniffing dogs for random drug searches was deemed unconstitutional intruded upon students’ expectation of privacy. Todd v. Rush County Schools (Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals 1998): Held constitutional a program prohibiting high school students from participating in purely extracurricular activities unless that student consented to random drug testing conducted by urinalysis. The court claimed that extracurricular activities “require healthy students,” and that participation in extracurricular activities is a “privilege in which students have voluntarily chosen to participate.”
Gardner v. Tulia Indep. Sch. Dist. (Northern District Court of Texas, 2000): The court ruled that the school could not require random drug testing of all students engaged in any extracurricular activities. DesRoches v. Caprio (Eastern District Court of Virginia, 1998): The fact that the search of all but one student in a class fails to reveal allegedly stolen property gives school officials reasonable suspicion to search that student.
Tannahill v. Lockney Indep. Sch. Dist. (Northern District Court of Texas, 2001): In another case of random drug testing, the court concluded that the school failed to sufficiently demonstrate the need for suspicionless drug testing and recognized the increased expectation of privacy for non-athlete students. Joy v. Penn-Harris-Madison Sch. Corp. (Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. 2000): The Seventh Circuit upheld the school’s policy requiring students interested in participating in extracurricular activities and student drivers to undergo random drug testing. However, the court made clear in extensive discussion that it believed the drug testing policy violated the Fourth Amendment. It felt bound to uphold the policy only because of the prior Todd case on similar facts in the same court.
Klump v. Nazareth Area School District (Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania, 2006): School officials took a student’s cell phone and a drug-related text came in. The court said that the school could not hold this against him, since there was no justification for a search of the phone, and the search was deemed unreasonable.
Brannum v. Overton County School Bd. (Sixth Circuit, 2008): Video recording middle school age athletes in various stages of undressing in a school locker-room violated the students’ 4th Amendment rights. The school staff were prompted to install video surveillance cameras by a concern that school safety measures should be enhanced. Yet there was no indication that school officials entertained concerns about student safety or security in locker rooms that would reasonably justify installation of cameras there.
J.W. v. Desoto County School District, (Northern District Court of Mississippi Delta, 2010): A student’s phone was confiscated at school and given to police. They claimed it showed pictures of “gang-related activity” and “indecent pictures” – in reality, the photos showed Richard dancing in the bathroom of his home. The court ruled that the school officials could search the phone after confiscating it, but could not discipline him based on what officials found on his phone during the search.
S.S. v. Minnewaska Area School District (District Court of Minnesota, 2012): The school district violated a student’s 4th amendment rights by requiring her to reveal her log-in information so they could search her online communications, none of which occurred during school time or on the school campus, created any type of substantial disruption of the educational environment, or violated any school rule.
G.C. v. Owensboro Public Schools (Sixth Circuit, 2013): School administrators were concerned about G.C., a student with drug use, behavior and emotional problems, and suicidal thoughts. A teacher confiscated his phone for violating the no-cell-phone policy, and administrators checked his texts “for his own safety”, but then ended up expelling him from school. The court found that the school officials had no specific reason to believe they would find evidence of further wrongdoing on G.C.’s phone, and therefore the search was unconstitutional.
Gallimore v. Henrico County School Board (Eastern District Court of Virginia, 2014): The court ruled that school could not search a student’s cellphone under suspicion that the student possessed marijuana. (The court did allow for searching the student’s backpack, however.)

Student Clubs

Winning Cases Losing Cases
Widmar v. Vincent (Supreme Court, 1981): Students at the University of Missouri were denied the use of university facilities because their club required denominational prayer and biblical teachings. They sued the university for violating their right to equal access and freedom of religion and speech. The Supreme Court ruled that the University of Missouri did violate the students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because the university allowed their properties to be used as a public forum and therefore could not pick and choose the content of the speech delivered at such forum. Christian Legal Society Chapter v. Martinez (U.S. Supreme Court, 2010): The Christian Legal Society sued the University of California Law School for a violation of their first amendment rights because the University would not recognize the organization as an official student organization. State law in California required all student organizations to be welcoming to students of all beliefs and backgrounds. The Christian Legal Society required new members to pledge allegiance to the Bible and Jesus Christ which therefore made it exclude members of different faiths and backgrounds. The Court ruled in favor of the public university did not violate the student’s first amendment rights because they followed state laws and were inclusive towards minority students and students of different faiths.
Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens (U.S. Supreme Court, 1990): When a student Christian based club was denied permission to meet, the school board said it was because they lacked a faculty sponsor. The students believed that the school had violated their rights in the Equal Access Act which required all schools receiving any federal funding to not discriminate against student groups expressive controversial messages such as religion, philosophy or political views.  The Supreme Court found since the school permitted other non-curricular clubs, it was prohibited under the Equal Access Act from denying equal access to any after-school club based on the content of its speech. Since religion is not taught in schools, the club was considered not curricular and because it was secular in purpose, it was protected under the equal access act. The non-curricular after school club only required a teacher to be present for safety reasons and the school, which was worried about seeming like it was promoting religion, would not be since the teacher only supervises and does not encourage the messages being taught. The Court ruled in favor of the students and said their right to meet was protected under the Equal Access Act.
Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia (U.S. Supreme Court, 1995): A group of students at the University of Virginia were denied funding for a student publication due to its religious nature even though it met the funding criteria required of all student groups. While the university claimed that they denied funding in order to not violate the Establishment Clause, the Court found in favor of the students.
Boyd County High School GSA v. Board of Education of Boyd County (Eastern District Court of Kentucky, (2003): Students hoping to start a Gay Straight Alliance Club in a Kentucky high school faced many obstacles after their club was initially approved. After many protests against the club, the school suspended all student clubs due to fairness. The student brought a lawsuit against the school arguing that their first amendment rights had been violated. The court ruled in favor of the students because after the school ban, many clubs such as Bible Club and Drama Club had continued to meet on school property. The students had been denied their equal access rights and the court ruled the school must provide facilities for the GSA to meet if they are going to allow other clubs to meet too.

 

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