Pubdate: Mon, 16 Jul 2007
Source: Boca Raton News (FL)
Copyright: 2007 Boca Raton News
Author: Nicol Jenkins
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Bong Hits 4 Jesus)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


Boca Raton Officials, Students React

A student has the right to freedom of speech, but schools also have
the right to limit it. Therefore, how much can a school limit before a
student becomes speechless?

A recent Supreme Court decision has called freedom of student speech
into question for some. The U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld a
school board's role to regulate student speech that could interfere
with maintaining a safe, secure, and effective learning

The case, Morse v. Frederick, known as "Bong Hits 4 Jesus", involves
Joseph Frederick, then a 18-year-old student, who unfurled a banner
that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" at an event off school    grounds where
students from Alaska's Juneau-Douglas High School gathered to watch
the Olympic Torch Relay pass. The school's then principal Deborah
Morse seized the banner and suspended Frederick. He then sued based on
his right of freedom of speech.

Basically, the Supreme Court decision gives school administrators the
authority to limit expression that advocates illegal drug activity and
to do so without violating students' existing First Amendment

Other Cases

Locally, a similar freedom of speech lawsuit occurred a year ago in
Palm Beach County. Then, 17-year-old Cameron Frazier sued the School
District of Palm Beach County after his teacher removed him from a
Boynton Beach classroom when he refused to stand for the pledge of
allegiance. The district settled the case, paid Frazier and withdrew a
policy that required students to get a signed note from parents to
excuse them from reciting the Pledge.

In yet another case, a federal judge ruled that a school could ban
students from wearing a t-shit bearing anti-homosexual sayings. The
student in this case, an Illinois high school student named Heidi
Zamecnik wore a t-shirt saying, "Be Happy, Not Gay."

Recent court decisions on free speech have sparked local and
nation-wide debate among education officials and students alike on
where the fine line should be drawn for student speech.

"The Court clearly spoke to the health and well being of our students,
not constitutional rights of free speech," said National School Boards
Association (NSBA) General Counsel Francisco Negron. "This decision
reaffirms the school's role in regulating messages that are
detrimental to student welfare."

NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant added, "As a result of this
decision, school administrators don't have to be afraid of someone
looking over their shoulder or second guessing decisions as they carry
out the policies put in place by schools boards.

This underscores how crucial it is for school boards to make sound
policy decisions and back up administrators."

On the other side, The Journalism Education Association (JEA)
Scholastic Press Rights Commission Chair John Bowen stated,

"Clearly, this decision should not be used as an excuse to control or
prevent speech school officials do not agree with or find

Locals React

Locally, the School District of Palm Beach County has a countywide
policy against student freedom of speech when "deemed offensive or
causing a disturbance" such as promoting drug or alcohol related use
such as t-shirts bearing beer or marijuana leafs, according to
district spokesman Bito David. He says many freedom of speech
questions come down to dress code policies, which are set by school
principals and vary "school by school." He pointed to one such
incident that occurred at Boynton Beach High School, where students
were reprimanded for wearing t-shirts bearing the Haitian flag.

District policy states, "The District believes that it is important
for students to learn the meaning and practice of freedom of speech
while in school, in order that as future citizens they will appreciate
the proper exercise of this vital liberty. In adopting this policy,
the District does not forego its authority to maintain an orderly and
disciplined school environment."

Palm Beach County School Board member Mark Hansen agrees with the
recent decision in favor of the principal.

"I applaud them for making the decision they did," said Hansen. "We do
need to support our principals, and if the US Supreme Court is
supporting the principal in this case that shows further evidence that
the principal's decision was made correctly."

Hansen continued, "We need to reinforce those laws that are in place
and the policies that are set."

To the contrary, School Board member Bob Kanjian thinks the decision
was incorrect in limiting freedom of speech while off school grounds.
"The ruling did somewhat limit freedom of speech," he said. But if the
incident occurred at the school Kanjian would support the ruling. He
added, "I appreciate they put some kind of limit but we need to find
out where the proper limitation is."

As for the county Pledge of Allegiance case, "To me it was a
discipline in the classroom issue. It disciplined 12,000 good
teachers, and now they do not have the right to control the classroom."

Overall, he believes some use the term too freely or not for the
"right" reasons. "The term has been overblown. Wearing a t-shirt that
tells people to use marijuana, that's not freedom of speech," he said.
"It's meant so people don't take your rights away. Some have made a
mockery of it." He believes uniforms would solve some issues.

Either way, Kanjian thinks the policy cannot be nationwide. "We have
to appreciate that it's not something we can have a national standard
for. In North Carolina, you see folks wearing the Confederate flag and
here is would be offensive. It's fairly subjective and not something
that is one size always fits all."

Yes and No

Boca students have varying opinions. Some say freedom of speech should
be universally guaranteed. Others say administrators need to draw a
specific line.

Kara Michelotti, a student at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton,
says she agrees with the latter.

"I agree with the Court decision. Students need to have a limit on
what they can or can't say when it comes to school life," she said.
"If kids are going to be saying things like "Bong Hits 4 Jesus", then
it just proves that freedom of speech needs to be limited. Schools
have every right to limit students' freedom of speech, especially if
kids are saying such stupid things like 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus.'"

On the other hand, Boca teen Kristina Kostkas is concerned with
students' rights to speak their mind. "I think they did make the right
decision because it promotes the wrong message but then again there is
freedom of speech. I think it will cause a lot more obscene things.
Everyone will use freedom of speech as I can say whatever I want."

Kostkas wonders if that decision will affect student jewelry that
symbolizes religious preferences. "Students wear crosses and the Star
of David and that is accepted, but one person came in with a swastika
on his t-shirt and they made him take the shirt off. I think the
jewelry minus the swastika shirt defines who you are and it's a
defining factor I don't think it will be harmful to anyone."

Boca teen Dominique Howard thinks student speech should be restricted
if it's hurtful or harmful to others. On the other hand, she doesn't
want the case to limit students right to express views.

"If students have an opinion and it is restricted, what does that
leave us for the future? We should be able to voice our opinion and
should be able to discuss it," Howard said, adding, however, "We can't
voice I think pot is the greatest thing in the world. If anything is
negative or if it's a controversy or could cause uproar and fights, it
may not be the best thing for a school function."
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