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Blogger Challenges Pending School Speech Rule

By Josh Feit November 7, 2011

December 1965, Mary Beth Tinker (13 years old) and John Tinker (15 years old)

Education blogger Melissa Westbrook has responded to the proposed changes to student newspaper policy at Seattle Schools (the pending rules would give the principal final say on what can go in student newspapers and mandate that "material must be free of content that runs counter to the instructional program") with an online petition asking people to oppose the change, leaving current policy in place. The current policy states:
Students have the right to FREEDOM OF THE PRESS and may express their personal opinions in writing. They must take full responsibility for the content of their publications by identifying themselves as authors and or editors of the publication. They are not allowed to make personal attacks or publish libelous or obscene material.

The reference to "instructional program" in the new rule is a nod to 1988's Hazelwood standard, a US Supreme Court ruling that said schools could censor based on "pedagogical" considerations. With that subjective element, the Hazelwood ruling gave school administrations more power to rein in student speech if they wanted.

The Reagan-era ruling overturned 1969's landmark Tinker standard—a Vietnam-era US Supreme Court case that gave students more freedom by forcing administrators to meet a tougher standard. Tinker said administrators had to show that the speech in question actually disrupted the school day as opposed to simply challenging subjective "instructional programs."

Fortunately, the Supreme Court sets a floor not a ceiling when it comes to free speech rights and states can go with the Tinker standard if they want. Legislators in Olympia have tried and failed to lock in the Tinker standard for Washington State.
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