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Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District - Wikipedia

The Struggle for Student Rights: Tinker v. Des Moines and the s. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, Johnson, professor of history and department chair at the University of Northern Iowa, presents a narrative history of what he calls "the legal clash between a handful of secondary-school students and a metropolitan Iowa school district over the right to wear black armbands on school property to symbolically express concerns about the war in Vietnam" p. The Tinker decision, Johnson maintains, "provided an important step forward for student rights and, at the same time, became one of the landmarks in the American history of freedom of expression" p.

Between and the mids, he states, "Tinker served as a precedent in literally hundreds of student rights cases in state and federal courts" p. The book under review, therefore, provides a detailed account of what the author argues is a landmark case in First Amendment law. At a meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, December 11, , a group of people opposed to the war in Vietnam decided that on the following Thursday, December 16, the public school and college students among them would begin wearing black armbands to classes in service of two goals: "to mourn all the casualties of the Vietnam War, Southeast Asian as well as American; and to support Senator Robert Kennedy's call for an extension of the anticipated Christmas truce" p.

Tinker v. Des Moines: Celebrating 50 years of free speech and student voices

Upon getting wind of this plan, the school district's central officials and principals of five senior high schools decided by December 14 to ban the wearing of armbands in the secondary schools on the rationale that such a protest would disturb the order and educational mission of these schools. Christopher Eckhardt wore his armband to Roosevelt High School, where he immediately turned himself in to the principal's office.

Failing to dissuade Eckhardt from his plan, the principal suspended him.

All three were punished for violating, in slightly different ways, the school-district policy which banned the wearing in class of black armbands as a symbol of political protest. Deciding against the students on September 1, , the court held that the school district's ban on black armbands was a reasonable means of maintaining the order and discipline necessary for an educational institution to carry out its mission.

Louis, which after an inconclusive three-judge hearing the following April upheld the district court's judgment in favor of the school district in a per curium opinion on November 3, On January 17, , the students filed a certiorari brief with the U. When James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin called on people to wear black armbands as a symbol of mourning, we wore them at a memorial service on the Capitol grounds in Des Moines. Growing up in Iowa, our father, Leonard Tinker, was a Methodist minister, and we later became Quakers.


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Our parents took the gospel to heart. In Atlantic, where we first lived, the swimming pool refused black families. When dad objected, he lost his church, and we moved to Des Moines.

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There, our parents became involved with the civil rights movement led by Edna Griffin and others. Edna won an Iowa Supreme Court case challenging racial segregation at the Katz drug store and public spaces. Then, on Saturdays, besides doing chores and going roller skating, we might be found picketing Katz drug store because they would not hire people of color. As the Vietnam war escalated, we again wanted to give voice to our feelings. About 10 students, including several from Roosevelt High School, the Unitarian youth group, and the Quakers, wore black armbands to mourn the dead on both sides and support a Christmas truce promoted by Sen.

Robert Kennedy. Five students were suspended, and three of us took the case to court.

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More: Fifty years after losing landmark free-speech case, Des Moines schools celebrate Tinker ruling. Mary Beth was 13 years old in eighth grade at Harding Middle School. As we celebrate this year, we will miss Chris Eckhardt, who died in Even though Matthew Fraser was delivering a political speech, the Court focused on his lewd and vulgar language. The Court in Fraser distinguished the political speech of the Tinker armbands with the vulgar and lewd words chosen by Matthew Fraser. The result was a new rule — public school officials can prohibit student speech that is vulgar, lewd, or plainly offensive.

Two years later, the Court created another rule for so-called school-sponsored speech or speech bearing the imprimatur of the school in Hazelwood School District v.

Louis County, Missouri. These articles discussed teen pregnancy and divorce. Reynolds ordered the articles excised from the school newspaper, a decision that three female student editors — Cathy Kuhlmeier, Leslie Smart, and Leanne Tippett-West — objected to strenuously. They argued that there was no showing that the articles in question would be substantially disruptive under Tinker. The articles also were not lewd or vulgar within the meaning of Fraser. However, the U.

Under Hazelwood , school-sponsored speech includes curricular expression, many student newspapers, school plays, school athletic expression, and much more.

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Tinker v. Des Moines Podcast

Thus, a key question in student-speech cases is whether the student expression in question is student-initiated or school-sponsored. If student-initiated, Tinker governs.

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If school-sponsored, Hazelwood governs. Then, nearly twenty years after Hazelwood, the Court decided a most unusual case called Morse v. All but Frederick complied. Frederick argued that Principal Morse violated his First Amendment free-speech rights, because he had engaged in off-campus speech that was not disruptive to the school. He had a point. After all, he was not on school grounds but a public street when he unveiled the banner. In each of these three decisions post-Tinker — Fraser, Hazelwood, and Morse — the Supreme Court ruled against public school students and in favor of school officials.

However, the Tinker case still stands as the baseline rule for student-initiated speech that is not vulgar or lewd or promotes the illegal use of drugs.


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  8. The chief test from Tinker is the substantial disruption test. School officials must show that they could reasonably forecast that the student expression would cause a substantial disruption or material interference with school activities. Justice Fortas devised a test that was designed to be quite protective of student rights. Through the years, however, some lower courts have turned the speech-protective test into one that is quite deferential to school officials.

    For example, a federal appeals court ruled that public school officials in California could prohibit several students from wearing t-shirts with pictures of the American flag on them on Cinqo de Mayo, because it might lead to tension with other students. Another federal appeals court ruled that public school officials in Mississippi could expel a student for creating a rap video off-campus that blew the whistle on the sexually harassing actions of two physical education teachers.