Section 3: Student Rights
While free expression and inquiry are important in school, they should be relevant to learning
and school activities. Students have no right to use obscene, inflammatory or defamatory
language. Free speech rights are protected by the constitution as long as they do not cause a
material disruption to the process of education. The courts give school officials authority to ban
student conduct that threatens the effective operation of the school. School administrators
must protect the rights of students and the whole student body. This is often a contradictory
and polarized duty.
Symbolic Jewelry, Buttons, Armbands, Etc.: Schools may ban the use of such if wearing them
causes a disruption of learning, and if the ban is not arbitrarily applied. For example, if a school
wants to ban insignia, it must ban ALL insignia.
Dress and Grooming: The courts have consistently allowed schools to regulate appearance if it
promotes and protects student health, safety and discipline. Gang clothing and colors may be
Gestures: Obscene or disrespectful gestures may be banned if they create a disruption.
Gestures related to gang activity may also be banned. Any physical gesture that offends on the
basis of race, sex, religion, color or national origin may be banned. Any school mascot that
offends a segment of the school population must be changed. Any school symbol that target or
ridicule a group on the basis of race, sex, religion, color or national origin should be banned.
Cults: Regulations of cult expression must be very specific and alert students to prohibited
symbols and dress options. Satanic or other cult rituals may be banned at school.
Verbal and Written Communication: Schools have a duty to teach socially acceptable behavior
and may ban lewd, indecent and offensive speech. Any effort to censor speech must be
reasonable in the context of the forum in which the speech is expressed. Just as limits are
placed on professional journalists, student writers bear the same responsibilities regarding
plagiarism, false or inflammatory articles, obscene writing, libel, fraud, and invasion of privacy.
An important difference is that school publications are not considered public forums and schools
may use editorial control to censor student articles. The courts have held that student
publications are intended as a supervised journalistic learning experience, and that school
officials may restrict student speech in such publications. The courts support the concept that
speech which is curriculum related (in class, a student publication or play) may be regulated.
Even when student writing appears in non-school sponsored publications, such as underground