In the mid 1900’s, students were expelled from public schools for refusing to salute the flag. Later, schools were authorized to read a prayer as a daily school exercise. Do these and other behaviors infringe upon rights protected by the First Amendment?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment is a constitutional right, but to what extent can it be applied to students at school?
Mr. Slauter, the associate principal, said that the goal of the school is to create a positive, educational environment. In order for the school to be safe and effective, some of these rights have to be taken away from students. However, unlike many other schools in the area, West Side is unique in that we are more lenient with students’ methods of freedom of expression. Mr. Joest says “both the daily behavior and academic achievements that result form that behavior, has earned the student body a certain amount of respect from the staff and the community.” Even though West Side is more lax on their rules, not everything protected under the first amendment is accepted.
Mr. Slauter explains that most of the times, a student’s First Amendment Rights would be taken away is if his or her teacher believed it to be negatively affecting the learning environment. For example, a student is allowed to wear a t-shirt that expresses any idea or belief as long as it is not offensive. However, that being said, the student may have to change his or her t-shirt if it becomes disruptive. In other words, if other students begin to talk about and focus more on the t-shirt than the actual lesson, it is up to the teacher to decide what is appropriate and what is not.
Mr. Joest believes, “expression is valuable, however teachers and administrators are kind of guardians during the day, and I think that limiting speech at school provides a legal framework to limit speech in an educationally productive manor.”
Jake Gutwein ’15 acknowledges that students “are not to wear vulgar clothing or cuss in the classroom.” Unlike area schools, such as McCutcheon, we are also allowed to wear hats during school hours.
West Side, although a public school, is also more open with religious expression within the student body. The moment of silence allows students to use that time for their own personal beliefs. Along with the pledge, some students refuse to stand for the pledge, and that is okay. It is up to the student to decide whether the pledge of allegiance is something that they want to participate in or not.
As Mr. Joest puts it “there are a lot of things you can do and say in life that may be legal, but not in your best interest. The Supreme Court rulings that allow schools to monitor speech provide schools with a chance to teach productive speech.”
Limits on student’s First Amendments rights are put in place “to ensure schools are an environment of constructive speech,” according to Mr. Joest.