First Amendment violations, it also allows teachers and administrations blanket protection
Ross further concludes that students continue to face unjustifiable censorship
because of teachers’ and administrators’ lack of knowledge on how to properly apply the
First Amendment. Lower courts have heard many cases involving alleged violations of
these rights, yet the holdings of Bethel, Morse, and Hazelwood remain the strongest.
Although Tinker is still good law, schools more frequently rely on the other three main
cases to censor student speech. This speech comes in a variety of forms from cursing in the
hallways, to discussing lewd messages, to continuing censorship in school papers.
Sometimes saying one curse word under a student’s breath can cause that student to be
suspended. These three cases strengthen the power of a school and continue to tip the scales
in favor of school rather than the student.
It is also interesting to note that in Hazelwood, the local newspaper printed the
student’s article and the reasons why it was not in the school newspaper. Ross notes that
this has typically been the case when schools have decided to censor inappropriate material.
In another case in New Jersey, a school refused to publish an article that it thought made
the school look bad. Residents who lived next to a school bus facility that left its buses
idling, were suing the school district for polluting the air. Students researched this
allegation, asked for quotes from all parties and wanted to publish their findings in the
student newspaper. When the school refused, the local paper printed the article with a note
as to why the school refused. Ross points out the contradictory nature of this, such that
schools are limiting speech because they are concerned of the disruption, yet the disruption
is not avoidable simply by not printing the article. In many cases, these articles may end
up printed in another source, as was the case here. Schools would be closer to their intended
goal by just printing the controversial article rather than giving it more publicity by refusing
In some schools, teachers face harsher speech limits than even students do. Ross
raises an example from a school where a teacher was teaching a lesson in a special
education classroom on homonyms (words that sound like each other but have different
meanings i.e. bark, date). Students began asking questions about inappropriate words that
may have multiple meanings such as “hell.” The teacher quickly realized that the situation
was getting out of hand, so she had a brief conversation about appropriate language in
school and ended the lesson. The school found that this was inappropriate speech in the
classroom and fired the teacher.
In another school, a teacher was covering current events in the news as part of the
mandatory curriculum. One newspaper clipping was about recent local protests of a war.
One student asked if the teacher had ever participated in a war protest and the teacher
responded that she had. After numerous complaints from parents, the school decided not
to renew the teacher’s contract. Ross points out the difficult situation that this lesson put
the teacher in. This was part of a mandatory curriculum and the teacher was faced with a
damning choice with either option she chose. She could lie to her students and say that she
never protested the war, or she could be honest and use it as a teaching moment. Ultimately,
her contract was not renewed when the school did not agree with her choice to disclose this