The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Friday, April 13, 2007

Update on DHS Student Suspension

Last week we reported on a Davis High School Student who was purportedly suspended from high school after delivering a speech on an incident where his Malcolm X poster was removed by the teacher. On the poster, the words "by any means necessary" were prominently displayed. The teacher reportedly removed the poster because she felt it conveyed a "terrorist message."

One of the issues discussed on this blog has been whether this represents a first amendment issue. Some have suggested that there is no free speech rights of high school students.

However, according to conversations I had with a lawyer familiar with this case and the law in this respect, that is not true. I have since verified these claims with another lawyer who is also familiar with this aspect of law.

Basically high school students at assemblies have the same free speech rights as anyone else. The school is not required by any means to provide the forum for speech. But once they have created the forum and invited the student to speak they have no authority to censor what the student can or cannot say in front of the assembly.

There are of course limitations to that right, they are the same limitations that anyone else has, which is the "shouting fire in a crowded theater" exception and also the inciting a riot or posing a "clear and present danger" of causing an unsafe situation. The standard for that is basically if they gave a speech and no action results from said speech, they have not presented a clear and present danger. Also the speech cannot be obscene. However, these are not claims being made to substantiate the suspension.

The student was basically given three reasons for the suspension.

First, the claim was made that the student had deviated from the speech--that the student had essentially given an entirely different speech than the one submitted and that the student had self-censored in the submitted speech in order to engage in some sort of deception to get it approved. Given the law, it is not clear that the school even has the authority to take this step.

Second, the student was cited for basically publicly humiliating a teacher--this despite the fact that the student never mentioned the name of the teacher and the teacher essentially outed herself through her own behavior. The teacher left the assembly in tears and did not return.

The law here would dictate that the speech be actually slanderous and the speech, text of which we have, seems to fall well short of any slander.

Third, the student was cited for disrupting an assembly--this charge is completely inaccurate by any standard that would be used. There was no disruption that occurred.

What this means is that according to the law, the school did not have the authority to suspend this student for a speech he gave in front of the school. And we can construe the actions of the school as a violation of the student's right to free speech--a right that contrary to some claims, the student does have under the law.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting