The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School
District that students in the public schools do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of
speech or expression at the school house gate." The Supreme Court has also recognized the First
Amendment rights of students in the public schools are not automatically coextensive with the
rights of adults in other settings and must be applied in light of the special characteristics of the
school. School is an appropriate place for debate, discussion and the expression of ideas.
However, certain kinds of speech, whether spoken, written, pictorial or symbolic, may be
prohibited at school in accordance with standards of reasonable journalism and in consideration
of the welfare and rights of the entire school community. Understanding the meaning of the First
Amendment's protection of free speech is an important responsibility that students must accept in
their learning process.
I. Speech Activities -- General
The extent to which the district regulates student speech activities depends upon whether
the expression is considered (1) part of the school curriculum, or (2) personal expression
that happens to occur on the school premises. District officials are entitled to exercise
greater control over the former type of expression. Student expression that is part of the
school curriculum includes school-sponsored publications, student-created or student-edited
web pages, theatrical productions, and other expressive activities that students, parents and
members of the public might reasonably perceive to bear the imprimatur of the school.
These activities may be characterized as part of the school curriculum, whether or not they
occur in a traditional classroom setting, so long as they are supervised by faculty members
and designed to impart particular knowledge or skills to student participants and audiences.
Personal student expression consists of speech activities that are not part of the school
curriculum as defined above. Student speech activities are subject to the following
1. Speech That Is Part of School Curriculum -- School officials may control the style
and content of speech that is determined to be part of the school curriculum so long
as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns; i.e., so
long as the censorship has a valid educational purpose.
2. Personal Expression -- School officials may prohibit personal expression that
happens to occur on school premises only if it would cause a material interference
with or substantial disruption of school activities, the invasion of another's right
of privacy, promotes a product or service not permitted to minors by law,
constitutes fighting or abusive words, or is libelous or obscene, all as defined by
Section II of this policy.
II. Distribution of Nonschool-Sponsored Materials
Students may distribute unofficial materials* in school or at school-sponsored activities that
are not part of the school curriculum and do not bear the imprimatur of the school, subject
to the time, place and manner restrictions contained below, except that the following
materials are prohibited:
1. Obscenity which is defined as follows:
a. The average person, applying contemporary community standards, would
find the unofficial material, taken as a whole, appeals to a minor's prurient
interest in sex;
b. The unofficial material depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way,
sexual conduct such as intimate sexual acts (normal or perverted),
masturbation, excretory functions, and lewd exhibition of the genitals;
c. The unofficial material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic,
political or social value.
d. "Minor" means any person under the age of 18.
2. Libelous material, which is defined as a false and unprivileged statement about a
specific individual which injures the individual's reputation in the community.
3. Fighting or abusive words are defined as words which are spoken solely to injure
or harass other people, such as threats of violence, defamation of character or of
a person's race, religion or ethnic origin.
4. Speech which would cause a material interference with or substantial disruption of
school activities or invasion of another's privacy.
a. "Disruption" is defined as speech which substantially interferes or
materially disrupts classroom work, school activities or school functions,
such as demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts, walk-outs, stand-ins, unlawful
seizures of property, destruction of property, widespread shouting or
boisterous conduct and related activities.
b. In order for a student's speech or publication to be disruptive, there must
exist specific facts upon which it would be reasonable to forecast that a
clear and present likelihood of an immediate, substantial, material
disruption of school activities would occur if the material was distributed.
c. In determining whether a student publication is disruptive, consideration
must be given to the context of the distribution as well as the context of the
material. In this regard, consideration should be given to past experience
in the school with similar material, past experience in the school when
supervising the students in the subject school, current events influencing
student activities and behavior, and whether there have been any instances
of actual or threatened disruption prior to or contemporaneously with the
dissemination of the student publication or the student speech in question.
d. "School activity" means educational activity of students sponsored by the
school and includes, by way of example and not by way of limitation,
classroom work, library activities, physical education classes, official
assemblies and other similar gatherings, school athletic contest, band
concerts, school plays and in-school lunch periods.
5. Speech which encourages action which endangers the health or safety of students.
6. Advertisements of any product or service not permitted to minors by law.
School officials may establish reasonable restrictions as to the time, place and manner in
which distribution may occur, including but not limited to the following:
1. Time -- The time of distribution shall be such as will not disrupt classes or normal
school activities. For example, distribution while a class is in session, during study
periods, or fire drills may be prohibited.
2. Place -- The place of distribution shall be in such areas and in such manner as will
not restrict the normal flow of traffic within buildings, outside corridors and
entranceways, and will not disrupt the use of district technology resources. Posters
and notices shall be put up only on designated areas. Distribution in classrooms
or libraries may be barred.
3. Manner -- The manner of distribution shall be subject to the following:
a. In order to avoid littering, newspapers and other printed material for
distribution shall not be left unattended.
b. Students who distribute unofficial material are responsible for the clean-up
and removal of any discarded material.
III. School-Sponsored Publications
School-sponsored publications and productions are part of the curriculum and are not a
public forum for general student use. School authorities may edit or delete material which
is inconsistent with the district's legitimate educational concerns. All student media shall
comply with the ethics and rules of responsible journalism. Information obtained from a
student's personally identifiable education records shall not be disclosed in student
publications unless the information is Directory Information or the district has received
written consent from the parent/guardian or eligible student to release the information.
School officials should permit publication and distribution of such materials as follows:
1. In order to maintain high standards of publication, a qualified faculty sponsor shall
be appointed by the principal to work with duly-elected or appointed student editors
and staff, except that the principal may on occasion approve some other qualified
individual as a sponsor. Prior to publication and distribution, all school-sponsored
publications shall be submitted to the faculty sponsor for review for consistency
with these guidelines. Material may not be published or distributed until approved
by the faculty sponsor. When in doubt, the faculty sponsor shall consult with the
principal or his/her designee.
2. Students who work on school-sponsored publications are required to:
a. Rewrite material, as required by faculty sponsors and/or the principal, that
is grammatically incorrect, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased
or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences;
b. Check and verify all facts and the accuracy of all quotations;
c. In the case of editorials or letters to the editor concerning controversial
issues, provide space for rebuttal and opinions.
3. The principal may establish reasonable rules with regard to the time, place, and
manner of publishing and distributing school publications.
4. The student editor or a staff member of the publication shall be promptly notified
of any objection which school officials have to the proposed material. In
determining whether to grant or withhold permission to publish or distribute, the
principal or his/her designee must render a final decision within two (2) school
days of the date on which the first objection to the proposed material is made to the
editor of the publication or to any staff member thereof. In the event the principal
fails to act within the two (2) school days period, the material may be published
and distributed. For the purposes of these guidelines, a "school day" is defined as
a 24-hour period of time, Monday through Friday, excluding holidays, beginning
from the time the proposed material is submitted to the school official.
5. If the principal withholds permission to publish or distribute, the student editor or
staff member in question may appeal the decision in writing to the superintendent
or his/her designee, who shall review the objectionable material and approve or
disapprove it within three (3) school days of receipt of a written notification of
appeal. The designee cannot be the person who made the original decision or
anyone subordinate to that person. If requested by the student editor or staff
member, he/she shall have the opportunity to present comments in writing on why
the publication should be permitted. If the superintendent or his/her designee fails
to render a decision within the three (3) school days period, the material shall be
considered as approved for publication and distribution.
IV. Violation of Policy
Students who violate any of these provisions shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary
* "Unofficial material" includes all written or pictorial communications except school
publications funded and/or sponsored or authorized by the school. Examples include
leaflets, buttons, badges, insignia, brochures, flyers, petitions, placards, underground
newspapers, websites, links to websites, and e-mails, whether created by students or
* * * * * * *
Note: The reader is encouraged to check the index located at the beginning of this
section for other pertinent policies and to review administrative procedures
and/or forms for related information.
Revised: 02/08/1996; 01/10/2002
Cross Refs: EHB, Technology Usage
IGDBA, Distribution of Noncurricular Student Publications
JO, Student Records
Legal Refs: §§ 167.161 - .171, 573.010, RSMo.
Bystrom v. Fridley High School Independent School District, 822 F.2d 747 (8th
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988)
St. Charles School District, St. Charles, Missouri
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