The National Coalition Against Censorship is deeply concerned that officials at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School in Athens, Georgia, removed student artwork celebrating gay rights. Media reports indicate that multiple school officials compared displaying a rainbow flag to displaying a swastika in the classroom after demanding a teacher remove artwork students had created on their own time.
Whether administrators removed the artwork because they disagreed with the particular social views expressed or because they disapprove of any student expression of political or social views, this silencing of student expression is inconsistent with freedom of expression principles and violates the public school’s First Amendment obligations. NCAC has written to the Board of Education to urge the district to return the artwork to public display, apologize to the student and take steps to ensure that similar acts of art censorship do not occur in the future.
The removal of the students’ artwork raises serious First Amendment concerns. More than fifty years ago, in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), the Supreme Court declared that students have the right to express themselves on school grounds as long as they do not substantially disrupt the activities of the school. The Court reconfirmed that principle just months ago in Mahanoy Area Sch. Dist. v. B. L. (2021). Mere disagreement with students’ points of view obviously doesn’t meet that standard. Students must be permitted to express their political and personal beliefs in school, including in their artwork.
To avoid the recurrence of such incidents in the future, NCAC urges the District to instruct its employees on the free expression rights of students and to take further steps to ensure that those rights will be respected in the future.
Read the full letter to the school district below. Click here for a full screen view: