I admit I haven't been posting regularly, maybe something to do with summer, or hot, or lots of kids at home apparently incapable of making the simplest decision without checking with mom (am I fooling myself to think this will continue when they're 16 and out with friends late at night?), but I have been working and keeping up with the news.
One interesting piece of news is the Supreme Court decision in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case Monday. Briefly, this case involved a group of high school students being released from class during the school day to attend the Olymip Torch Relay parade being held on the stree outside the school. School staff followed the students oustide to the parade.
One student, in a self admitted attempt to get on TV, unfurled a pre-prepared banner with the above statement on it. The school principal told him to take it down, he refused, and she suspended him. He appealed his suspension, arguing the banner was protected speech, and the dispute ultimately wound up before the Supreme Court.
The Court's ruling was very limited. It upheld the suspension on the basis that the speech itself could reasonably be interpreted as advocacy of illegal drug use, which was against school policy and had been the basis of the suspension. Significantly, the Court did not find any political statement in the banner, merely the illegal drug use advocacy. Had there been a political statement on drug policy within the statement, even if there had also been a reasonably arguable urge to illegal drug use, the Court would probably have ruled in favor of the student. It's probably important to also note that many people, the justices included, have observed that the statement itself doesn't make any sense and doesn't really say anything at all.
Context is important is determining political content. The student himself had stated his purpose was to get on TV, and the event was unrelated to politics or policy or religion or even public debate.
So how should this affect teachers? First, students clearly have a constitutional right to express political opinions. Public schools cannot discipline students for the content of their political expressions. In other words, what the student says cannot be the basis of the discipline. Private schools are not necessarily bound to this same rule.
If the banner had been unfurled in the classroom, during class, the student could be disciplined for being disruptive, regardless of the content.
If the banner had said "Bong Hits 4 Cancer Patients", it would probably have been protected speech.