A controversial topic that constantly arises among school administrators and students is whether or not school officials are allowed to punish students for off-campus speech. Throughout my study, as I dug deeper into my research, I have found that it has grown increasingly more difficult to discuss this issue, although the standing precedent for these issues is that school officials are allowed to punish students for off-campus speech. However, that is only the case when and if that student's off-campus speech becomes a "material or substantial disruption" on school grounds. The question now becomes: how do we know what is a "material or substantial disruption"? Where do we draw the line? Cases throughout the year have all ruled in different positions when determining what exactly constitutes a violation when it comes to students and their free speech.
In J.S. v Bethlehem Area School District, the issue was whether or not the school district violated the student's First Amendment right to free speech by disciplining him because of the contents of the derogatory website. In this case, the court held that the school district did not, in fact, violate the student's 1st Amendment Right. Similarly in Layshock v Hermitage School District, the issue at hand was whether the plaintiff demonstrated a reasonable assertion to warrant a Temporary Restraining Order. And, in this case, the court also held that the school officials acted entirely within their jurisdiction to punish the school and provide a warrant to the teacher to which the inappropriate material was directed. Although the authorities identified the child's actions as a parody, the Board of Education deemed it to be disruptive to the school environment when class time had to be taken away in order to address the situation.
Many students whose 1st Amendment Rights have been infringed upon will blatantly disagree with the courts. When Amanda Tatro received disciplinary charges by the University of Minnesota for postings on her own personal Facebook page, the teen challenged the penalties. What is significant about this case is not what Tatro has said, but rather the boggling question of why the University of Minnesota deems it appropriate to regulate what their students can and cannot say on Facebook.
As the growing age of technology expands and freedom of speech and expression is more easily accessible through the internet, the idea of school officials punishing students for their off-campus speech has been evolving. However, let's not forget that off-campus speech doesn't necessarily have to be digital. School administrations have not only begun to punish students for their expressive conduct, but they are evolving in a way where they entirely limit student's 1st Amendment Right. In the video Don't School my Speech A Student Schools His College, students were trying to recruit other classmates for a school event. What we are beginning to see is that school officials are limiting students free speech by placing policies that state that students are only allowed to conduct such activities within the school's 'free speech zone' which accounts for only .01% of the entire college campus and is also in an isolated area. If students conduct their activities outside of the designated area, they can be punished by the school administrators. Therefore, school officials are now beginning to expand their authority to not only punish free speech, but abolish it as well.
Video Credit: (TYT University, Free Speech Zone 'Slapped' Down at U Cincinnati, 2012)