Students’ Black Armbands Protected Speech, Court Rules

By Mark Walsh — September 08, 2008 1 min read
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I’ve returned from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, and, counting the Democratic convention in Denver, from two weeks of focus on education policy in the presidential race, so I need a fix of school law.

The one big law-related event scheduled during the Republican convention was canceled. It was a forum on the impact of the 2008 election on the future of the U.S. Supreme Court, sponsored by the Federalist Society and was to feature former Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson, an adviser to Sen. John McCain’s campaign, and Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School, an unpaid adviser to Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign. That promised to be a lively debate, but the event was called off at the last minute. The organizers cited “complications caused by Hurricane Gustav.”

In the meantime, here is the biggest school law decision from last week worth catching up with for the record:

Protest Over School Uniforms: A federal appeals court ruled that a school district’s discipline against students who had worn black armbands to protest a mandatory school uniform policy violated the students’ free-speech rights.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in St. Louis, held unanimously that the Watson Chapel school district in Arkansas violated the First Amendment rights of students who wore the black armbands. The court said the armbands worn in protest of the school uniform policy were as deserving of First Amendment protection as the black armbands worn by students protesting the Vietnam War in the landmark Supreme Court case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

“Whether student speech protests national foreign policy or local school board policy is not
constitutionally significant,” the 8th Circuit court said in its Sept. 2 decision in Lowry v. Watson Chapel School District.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on the decision here.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.