Student rights debated and changed in recent history

“We the people of the United States…” These iconic words begin the living document that governs the country and its citizens, and from the time of its ratification, the Constitution has been amended and interpreted to better protect those living under its jurisdiction. Due process under the law, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press guarantee constitutional rights that have been upheld and protected by the Supreme Court. The application of constitutional rights enters a gray area when discussing students. Should minors be guaranteed all of the rights of an adult? If so, why? If not, which should be excluded and to what extent?

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier

Hazelwood East High School in Missouri sponsored a student run newspaper called The Spectrum. In May 1983, the school principal received proofs for the upcoming edition to be approved but after review, he removed two articles he believed were inappropriate. The first article addressed teen pregnancy and the second examined the effect of divorce on children. Because the articles in question discussed sex and the use of contraception as well as included negative comments from one student about his father, he refused to let the paper print unless they were withheld. The principal felt that this was not suitable material for younger students but sudent editor Cathy Kuhlmeier, along with two others disagreed and took the case to court. They felt that their right to freedom of the press was being violated by the principal’s deletion of the two articles.

In a 5-3 decision, the Court decided that their rights were not violated because schools must be able to set high standards for student expression.

Tinker v. Des Moines (1968)

To show their objection to the Vietnam War, a group of students in Des Moines, Iowa decided to wear black armbands to school and fast on Dec. 16 and Dec. 31 of 1965. On Dec. 14, the principal found out about the plan and made a school policy that banned armbands and made the refusal to remove an armband punishable by suspension. On Dec. 16, two students (one being Mary Beth Tinker) wore the black armbands and were sent home. The next day, another student wore an armband with the same result. The students sued the school for violating their right to free speech

In a 7-2 decision, the Court decided that students don’t lose their right to free speech when on the school grounds and yes, their right to free speech was violated.

New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1983)

In New Jersey, school officials searched the purse of a student (referred to as T.L.O.) on the suspicion that she had cigarettes. They found cigarettes, marijuana, and a list of students who owed her money. They contacted the authorities, and T.L.O was charged with possession. Her motion to suppress evidence found in the search was denied. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County found her guilty. She appealed her case to the Superior Court of New Jersey, who also denied her motion to suppress evidence. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed that decision. The Supreme Court’s job was to decide whether or not the exclusionary rule, which holds that improperly gathered evidence cannot be used in a trial, applied to students

Six justices voted for New Jersey and three voted against. However, no decision was made. The Supreme Court tableed the case to be reargued.

Goss v. Lopez (1975)

Between two high schools and one junior high school in Columbus, Ohio, nine students were suspended for 10 days. Since Ohio law did not require it, the principals did not hold hearings for the students. When the decision of the principal was challenged, a federal court ruled in favor of the students. Afterwards, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. The question was whether or not the students’ right to due process was violated.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the students. They reasoned that since Ohio extends the right of education, it cannot take away that right without “fundamentally fair procedures.” Therefore, all suspensions must receive a hearing before school administrators.

Engel V. Vitale (1962)

The Board of Regents for the State of New York authorized a prayer for the beginning of the school day. The prayer was short, voluntary, and nondenominational. It read “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country.”

This case came to the Supreme Court questioning whether or not the reading of the prayer at the beginning of the day violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court decided 6-1 that even though the prayer was nondenominational and optional, the state of New York approved and established religion by approving the reading of the prayer.

It’s important to note that all of these rights are only guaranteed to students who attend state-funded public schools. Because McNicholas High School is a parochial school and on private property, McNicholas students’ rights are not guaranteed by the federal government. However, that’s not to say that McNicholas administration doesn’t respect them anyway.

Currently, the McNicholas administration doesn’t look through lockers without suspicion. There are appeal processes (which can be found on page 34 of the student handbook) if a student feels a punishment is unfair. There was even one large demonstration of freedom of expression in 2000. The students organized a sit-in to show their support for a former coach who had been released of his duties as a coach. The coach (who still worked at McNicholas in another capacity) thanked them and told them to return to class. All of the students obliged and no one was punished.

Director of Curriculum Dan Rosenbaum said, “I’m an educator. My job is to educate and part of that is teaching students how to appropriately voice their disapproval.”

The only exception to this is of course prayer. Prayer is an integral part of life in a Catholic community.

“We are a Christ-centered institution. We are allowed to pray and we are going to pray,” Rosenbaum said.

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