South Sioux City Community Schools in Nebraska recently published a statement from their superintendent, Todd Strom, forbidding all “protests, walkouts, and demonstrations” on school grounds and threatening “disciplinary consequences” for any students who engage in such activities. The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to the school district to remind them of their responsibility to protect students’ First Amendment rights, which the Supreme Court has ruled do not end “at the schoolhouse gate.”
As NCAC has informed the district, a blanket ban on all protests is a violation of students’ First Amendment rights. More than fifty years ago, in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), the Supreme Court established that students have the right to protest on school grounds, and that schools may not forbid such protests, nor punish students for engaging in such protests, unless the protests are conducted in a manner which threatens to substantially disrupt the activities of the school.
The Tinker case involved a group of students including Mary Beth Tinker, 13 years-old at the time, who planned to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. Their Iowa school heard of the plan and preemptively banned the protest, then suspended the students who armbands in defiance of the ban. The Court ruled that the protestors’ rights has been violated, writing that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The case established a precedent that a protest can only be restricted in public schools if it causes significant disruption to the educational process.
NCAC has asked South Sioux City Community Schools to clarify for students, and the community, that they have a right to protest in a manner that does not substantially disrupt school and that students will not be punished for engaging in such protest.
All students have a right to engage in social and political dialogue. Our democracy depends on students growing into engaged citizens.
Read the full letter to the school district below. Click here for a full screen view: