Law & Courts

District’s Discipline Over Drug Banner Violated Student’s Rights, Court Says

By Andrew Trotter — April 18, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A banner that a Juneau, Alaska, student raised across the street from his high school may have had a pro-drug slogan, as school officials contend, but the principal violated the student’s right to free speech when she snatched the banner away and later suspended him for 10 days, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Joseph Frederick was 18 in 2002, when he stood on the sidewalk opposite Juneau-Douglas High School and held up the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner. He stood among other, sometimes boisterous students as runners carrying the Olympic torch passed by as part of a community event.

Mr. Frederick said afterward that he thought the banner’s message was meaningless and humorous, and that he wanted to attract the attention of television cameras.

Principal Deborah Morse said she grabbed the banner because it contradicted the school’s anti-drug messages, according to court papers in Mr. Frederick’s lawsuit against Ms. Morse and the 5,300-student Juneau school district.

But on March 10, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled unanimously for Mr. Frederick.

U.S. Circuit Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld said that the case falls squarely under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which upheld students’ right to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War as long as school was not substantially disrupted.

The judge distinguished Mr. Frederick’s case from Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, a 1986 Supreme Court decision that backed school officials’ authority to punish a student’s speech at a school assembly that was laced with sexual innuendo, because the speech, in the Supreme Court’s words, “would undermine the school’s basic educational mission.”

Mr. Frederick’s speech was not “vulgar, lewd, and obscene” and did not cause the crowd’s disruptive behavior, Judge Kleinfeld said.

“There has to be some limit on the school’s authority to define its mission in order to keep Fraser consistent with the bedrock principle of Tinker that students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” the judge wrote.

The court also held that the principal could be held personally liable in the lawsuit.

In a notice on its Web site, the Juneau district said the decision would make it “much more difficult” to enforce its policies restricting student speech that advocates illegal drug and alcohol use. The district has petitioned the 9th Circuit court to rehear the case before a larger panel of judges.

Related Tags:

Events

Assessment Webinar The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Major Cases on Affirmative Action in Education
The outcome could affect K-12 policies when the justices rule on race-based policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.
3 min read
A man talks on his phone on the steps of Harvard University's Widener Library, in Cambridge, Mass. on June 26, 2020.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up major cases on affirmative action in admissions at Harvard University, above, and at the University of North Carolina.
Elise Amendola/AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court to Hear Case of Coach Who Prayed After Games in Defiance of School District
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether school districts may prohibit private religious expression by public school employees.
4 min read
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy is in a conflict with the Bremerton, 
Wash., school district over his silent prayer after games.
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joseph A. Kennedy stands at on the 50-yard line at Bremerton Memorial Stadium. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal over his dismissal for praying after football games.
Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun via AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court Blocks Biden Vaccine Mandate Applying to Schools in Much of the Country
The justices ruled 6-3 to stay an Occupational Health and Safety Administration rule that covered schools in 26 states and two territories.
4 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo last April.
The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal vaccine mandate for large employers, including school districts in about half the states.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
Law & Courts Students Lose Appeal on Right to Civics Education, But Win Praise From Judges Anyway
A federal appellate court panel commended Rhode Island students for the novel effort, but said Supreme Court precedent stood in the way.
3 min read
Scales of justice and Gavel on wooden table and Lawyer or Judge working with agreement in Courtroom, Justice and Law concept.
Pattanaphong Khuankaew/iStock