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What is freedom of expression?
 
What rights to freedom of expression do students have?
 
 

Public school students possess a range of free-expression rights under the First Amendment. Students can speak, write articles, assemble to form groups and even petition school officials on issues. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that students "do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the schoolhouse gate."

There is a fundamental distinction between public and private school students under the First Amendment. The First Amendment and the other provisions of the Bill of Rights limit the government from infringing on an individual's rights. Public school officials act as part of the government and are called state actors. As such, they must act according to the principles in the Bill of Rights. Private schools, however, aren’t arms of the government. Therefore, the First Amendment does not provide protection for students at private schools.

Though public school students do possess First Amendment freedoms, the courts allow school officials to regulate certain types of student expression. For example, school officials may prohibit speech that substantially disrupts the school environment or that invades the rights of others. Many courts have held that school officials can restrict student speech that is lewd.

Many state constitutions contain provisions safeguarding free expression. Some state Supreme Courts have interpreted their constitutions to provide greater protection than the federal Constitution. In addition, a few states have adopted laws providing greater protection for freedom of speech.

 
 
What has the Supreme Court said about free expression?
 
May public schools impose dress codes and uniforms?
 
May a school punish a student for wearing Confederate flag attire?
 
Are political messages on students’ clothing protected?
 
Can students wear clothing with profanity?
 
May a public school official legally censor a school-sponsored publication, like a newspaper or yearbook?
 
May a public school legally censor an off-campus, 'underground' student publication?
 
May administrators remove controversial books from school library shelves?
 
What types of books are most subject to censorship?
 
Is speech on the Internet entitled to as much protection as speech in more traditional media?
 
Does it matter whether a student creates his cyberspeech at school?
 
May schools enforce speech codes on school grounds?
 
May a public school exclude certain student clubs or groups?
 
If a student creates his material at home, how can school officials possibly regulate it?
 
Can school officials restrict online expression because it contains offensive language?
 
Are public school students required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance?
 
May students pray or discuss religion in public schools?
 
May a student lead a prayer at graduation exercises?
 
Does it violate my First Amendment rights if a school official reads over my graduation speech before I give it?
 
Do students have to stand and remove their hats during the Pledge?
 
If I wear my hair long or dye it an unusual color, can I get in trouble at school?
 
Can public schools use Internet filters to block students' access to specific Web sites?
 
Can students be forced to stand while other students recite the Pledge?
 
Can different rules about hair length apply in extracurricular activities and the regular school day?
 
Does a public school have the right to prohibit students from wearing hats in school?
 
What about the power of schools to control speech in the classroom?
 
How do schools resolve the tension between freedom of speech and the need for discipline and control?
 
Can a principal forbid a teacher from reading certain curriculum-related texts in class?
 
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Last system update: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 | 17:53:57
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student expression issues >
Clothing, dress codes & uniforms
K-12 newspapers & yearbooks
Underground papers & off-campus speech
Cyberspeech
Book censorship
Hate speech & speech codes
Clubs
Pledge of Allegiance in public schools
Speaking out in school