What First Amendment rights do students have at DeKalb Schools? On this blog, we have vigorously discussed the freedom of students to express themselves. We have examined several incidents and the school districts different responses over the years. DeKalb Schools has a habit of defending speech that is congruent with the prevailing political sentiment of the administrators while simultaneously calling speech they don’t like disruptive.
The district has previously released the following statement regarding their view of First Amendment rights,
“The DeKalb County School District supports the constitutional right of its students to freedom of speech, but it also requires that such exercises do not disrupt or degrade the learning environment. When that standard is violated, the district reviews each transgression on its own merits and uses the DCSD Student Code of Conduct as its guide in taking corrective action. Violations are considered disruptions of the school environment per the DCSD Student Code of Conduct.”
Last year, a Chamblee Charter HS student wore a “Fire Braaten” button. DeKalb Schools subsequently suspended the student and the student’s family filed a Federal lawsuit against DeKalb County School District over alleged free speech violations.
While the lawsuit is proceeding through the court system, a United States District Judge ruled on some motions and contemplated the First Amendment rights students have at DeKalb Schools. I thought the ruling was very interesting. You can read the entire ruling at the link below.
KB v DeKalb Schools – Ruling on Motion to Amend and Motion to Dismiss
The following quotes are taken from the “analysis” in the United States District Judge’s ruling.
“First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” (dtmg Barnette, 319 U.S. at 637; Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697, 707 (1931))
“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, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State. In our system, students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved. In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views.” (Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmtv. Sch. Dist, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969))
“These fundamental values of “habits and manners of civility” essential to a democratic society must, of course, include tolerance of divergent political and religious views, even when the views expressed may be unpopular. But these “fundamental values” must also take into account consideration of the sensibilities of others, and, in the case of a school, the sensibilities of fellow students. The undoubted freedom to advocate unpopular and controversial views in schools and classrooms must be balanced against the society’s countervailing interest in teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior. Even the most heated political discourse in a democratic society requires consideration for the personal sensibilities of the other participants and audiences.” (Ambach v. Norwich, 441 U.S. 68, 76-66 (1979))
“However, in assessing the reasonableness of regulations that tread upon expression, we cannot simply defer to the specter of disruption or the mere theoretical possibility of discord, or even some de minimis, insubstantial impact on classroom decomm. Particularly given the fact that young people are required by law to spend a substantial portion of their lives in classrooms, student expression may not be suppressed simply because it gives rise to some slight, easily overlooked disruption, including but not limited to “a showing of mild curiosity” by other students, “discussion and comment” among students, or even some “hostile remarks” or “discussion outside of the classrooms” by other students.” (Fraser, 478 U.S. at 683, 685)
Whether Defendants Violated the First Amendment by Restricting K.B.’s Speech
“DeKalb Schools contends that K.B.’s stickers were materially disruptive and therefore not protected speech. Given the allegations in the Proposed Complaint, the Court is not persuaded. The Court cannot identify “demonstrable factors that would give rise to any reasonable forecast by the school administration of ‘substantial and material’ disruption of school activities.” (See Holloman, 370 F.3d at 1273). Rather, it appears that K.B.’s stickers could have “give[n] rise to some slight, easily overlooked disruption” at most.”
Free Speech … For Some At DeKalb Schools … Part II
October 17, 2018 – I advocate for the First Amendment across the board. I’m concerned once again the freedom of students to express themselves is not being equally defended. It would seem that the school district only defends speech they agree with and calls all other speech disruptive.
Protesting Cheerleaders at DHS – The Whole Story
December 17, 2017 – A black cheerleader was auto cropped out of a cheerleader squad picture when the photo was auto formatted for printing by an online system. Some students sprung into action blaming the cheerleader squad for an intentional action demonstrating racial bias. A protest for this non-event is planned for tomorrow morning and sanctioned by the school district.
DeKalb Schools – Free Speech….For Some?
November 10, 2017 – DeKalb Schools might have a consistency problem with the First Amendment.
We received a phone call from the principal of the middle school this morning informing us that Jaxon was not allowed to wear an FNN-Fake News Network shirt.
Students Kneel During National Anthem
October 13, 2017 – The girls at Cedar Grove High School in DeKalb County took a knee before their playoff game. “Basically right now, the flag doesn’t’ mean what it’s supposed to, to me.” a student said.