National School Board Association Guide on Student and Employee Speech

Highlights

  1. Do students have a constitutional right to free speech at school?

    Yes. Students have a constitutional right to free speech at school, but schools may regulate speech that interferes with the operations of the school or infringes upon the rights of others.

  2. Is a student’s right to free speech at school absolute?

    No. Schools can also regulate speech when the school reasonably forecasts material disruption. Be familiar with the type of circumstances that courts have identified as constituting “material and substantial disruption” or “impingement” of the rights of others.

  3. Is protest a form of protected student speech?

    Yes. Protest is a recognized form of protected student speech

  4. Can a school regulate student speech at a school-sponsored activity, like a football game?

    Yes, school-sponsored activities are still considered to be within the school setting.

  5. Can a school discipline or bar a student from participating in an extracurricular activity for failing to comply with school rules that regulate expression?

    Participating in extracurricular athletics or other activities is a privilege. Courts have held that although students have a constitutional right to engage in educational activities, they do not have a similar right to participate in extracurricular activities. However, no legal precedent expressly holds that a student can be disciplined or barred from participating in an extracurricular activity for failing to comply with school rules that regulate speech or expression.

  6. May a school discipline a student for inciting other students to protest?

    A school could, in some circumstances, constitutionally discipline a student for inciting other students to protest and for planning a mass protest in advance. If the school reasonably could forecast that the mass protest, e.g., walkout, sit-in, would result in substantial disruption, then school officials would be able to discipline that student without violating his/her First Amendment speech rights.

  7. Can schools place restrictions on speech that is otherwise protected by the Constitution?

    Yes, under certain circumstances. Schools can place reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on the exercise of free speech in order to avoid disruption.

Source: Coercion, Conscience, and the First Amendment: A Legal Guide for Public Schools on the egulation of Student and Employee Speech Published January 2018