Sunday, April 6, 2014
In her article "An Imminent Substantial Disruption: Towards a Uniform Standard for Balancing the Rights of Students to Speak and the Rights of Administrators to Discipline" (forthcoming in Dartmouth Law Journal; available in draft on ssrn), Allison Kort (pictured) revisits the problems and issues with the landmark 1969 First Amendment case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.
Kort argues that courts "frequently make an end run around Tinker by deferring to the school board on the “reasonableness” of the school’s action, or deciding these cases on the basis of the speech’s content," even as neither "students nor school officials enjoy clear awareness of students’ rights to free speech and expression, and students are subject to personal opinions of the school boards."
Certainly Kort's contention is demonstrated by cases such as B.H. v. Easton Area School District (the "I heart boobies bracelet" case) in which a divided Third Circuit en banc held the students had First Amendment rights and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. It's also illustrated by the Confederate flag wear cases, with the United States Supreme Court likewise recently denying certiorari. And Mary Beth Tinker, who is "on tour" encouraging students to exercise their First Amendment rights would undoubtedly agree that there needs to be more awareness.
Kort's solution is a revitalization of Tinker, so that courts actually apply Tinker (rather than its progeny - - - Fraser, Hazelwood, and Morse - - - that "chip away" at Tinker) and to apply the "substantial disruption" standard to mean a "imminent danger that a compelling state interest will be violated."
While not all school speech cases involve attire and grooming regulations, a substantial portion do. Kort's article will therefore be of special interest to advocates and scholars working in the continuing and contentious field of student dress codes and "dressing constitutionally."