How is the true-threats doctrine applied to student speech?

Monday, May 12, 2008

There are some special considerations when looking at true threats and student speech. A school must maintain a safe and effective learning environment; to this end the school administration “need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its ‘basic educational mission,’ even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school” (Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988).) This means that school officials may regulate student speech when they can demonstrate that such speech would “substantially interfere with the work of the school or impinge upon the rights of other students” (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969).)

The bottom line is student speech is subject to more regulation than adult speech. In addition many schools implemented “zero-tolerance” policies after the Columbine attack. These policies allow the schools to quickly suspend or expel students found to have violated the law or school policies. These factors change the analysis for true threats when applied to student speech. There is one other element that courts look at where student speech is concerned: did the speech occur on or off campus? Courts have ruled that speech that takes place off-campus is entitled to more First Amendment protection, while speech that occurs on-campus can be regulated (Porter v. Ascension Parish School Board, 393 F.3d 608, 613 (5th Cir. 2004).)