Freedom of speech is a very controversial issue in schools today. This issue has seen many cases, for example Hazelwood vs Kulmeier in 1988 and Tinker vs. Des Moines in 1969.
On Dec. 3, Hixson Middle School students planned to protest the events in Ferguson.
Teachers and administrators got word of the possible protest and called an assembly.
Eighth grade student Emma Binder said, “When the teachers got word of the protest, they called an assembly. We were told that if this is what we believe, we should do it, but there could be consequences. Many teachers told us they wish they could take part in the protest.”
Over 40 students participated in a walk-out protest similar to the one at the high school on Dec. 4.
Those students were originally assigned In-School suspension for their actions but were instead set to serve a “20-30 minute restitution period at their lunch to make up their work,” according to Hixson principal Dr. Stacie Smith.
Dr. Smith said that students were originally set to be given In-School suspension for leaving school and not coming back in a timely manner. “The punishment was changed because the students represented good behavior and follower all of (the teachers and administrators) directions while they were protesting,” she said.
A case similar to this one was Tinker vs. Des Moines in 1969. Students planned to promote truce in the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands. When the principals of the Des Moines school learned this, the school put a policy in place banning the armband and giving suspensions to students who refused to remove them.
Students in the Tinker vs. Des Moines case sued the school district through their parents for violating the students’ right of expression.
In the final decision the U.S Supreme Court ruled that students don’t “shed their Constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” but students can’t “disrupt the educational process.”
This means that students should have been able to protest freely if they were protesting in a peaceful manner if and not disturbing the educational process.
When asked if students were disruptive during their protest, Smith said, “No, they were awesome their behavior was excellent. (The protest) was very well contained”.
When talking about the punishment Smith added “(students) should also learn that actions have consequences, Like, I could be at a job and if I choose to protest, I can totally do that, and I should if thats what I want for my cause, at the same time if I just get up and walk out of my job and do something then I have to know that it might be fine, it might not be fine, it just depends, so the idea is great but we wanted to help (students) think through all of their choices.”
If Smith thinks that someone at their job should protest if it’s what they want for their cause, what makes school different from someone’s job?
Employees can be punished by getting fired, and students can be punished by being suspended or given another disciplinary action.
Teaching students that some actions have consequences is a good thing, but in this instance students protested peacefully and were not disruptive so they had the right to protest.
The students were treated unfairly and situations like these could make students afraid to voice their opinions in the future because of fear of being punished.