Law & Courts

Views on Speech by Students Clash

By Mark Walsh — January 21, 2009 1 min read

Two new books about the legal rights of students to express themselves bring fresh perspectives to an always vibrant area of the law. But the two volumes stake out distinctly different positions.

The first is Law of the Student Press, published late last year by the Student Press Law Center, the Arlington, Va., nonprofit group that often comes to the aid of student journalists and their faculty advisers.

In the third edition of this volume—the first update since 1994—the SPLC offers a handbook not only on issues specific to student publications, but also on other free-expression issues for young people. Topics include copyright, defamation, advertising and business concerns, and the rights of advisers.

“Student journalists can translate the language of their peers into words the larger society can understand,” says the book’s introduction.

One chapter is devoted to an area of the law that was much less developed when the book last came out—online media.

“Unfortunately, school administrators who view the Internet as somehow a completely different animal from earlier forms of media have often felt justified in inventing new grounds for restricting it,” the book says.

Anne Proffitt Dupre, a law professor at the University of Georgia, has a different take on student expression in a book published this month by Harvard University Press.

In Speaking Up: The Unintended Costs of Free Speech in Public Schools, Ms. Dupre subtly makes the argument that the trend toward greater student speech rights since the 1960s has come at a cost to the larger “liberty of a nation.”

“Time and time again we see a clash ... between the rights of individual students to speak in the face of the rights of other students to learn,” she writes. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Community School District, which upheld the right of students to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War as long as school was not substantially disrupted, set forth a “legal regime that ... has more costs than are commonly recognized,” the author writes.

A version of this article appeared in the January 21, 2009 edition of Education Week


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