On February 24, 1969, in the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, it was decided that students do not surrender their constitutional rights at school. But what does this mean for students today?
Obviously, certain rules apply at school. While you are permitted to express your opinion according to your freedom of speech, you are not allowed to swear or speak hatefully. While you are entitled to wear what you want, dress codes prevent you from wearing certain things. How is it legal for your school to tell you what you can or cannot say or wear in school?
The simple answer is that you are a minor. Minors are less mature than adults and cannot make the same kinds of choices that adults may make. This is why minors are assigned a guardian to make decisions for them, usually a parent. In the case of students, however, courts have determined that schools can and often should act as parents to protect students when students require protection. In the same way that a parent may make a rule that a child is required to follow, a school may also make such a rule.
The other main reason why schools are allowed to enforce rules that restrict what students say, do, and wear is that the primary goal of a school is to educate. Actions that defy this goal may be restricted by the school. This is why phones are not allowed in class and dress codes are enforced; students are not permitted to act in a way that detracts from the school’s ability to educate.
That being said, certain rights are not surrendered in school. While a school is permitted to act as a pseudo-parent in many instances, as long as an activity does not violate a school’s goal to educate and protect students, it is permitted. If a student wishes to wear a pride flag, the school cannot object. This does not detract from the school environment or endanger other students; thus, it is perfectly permissible. If a student wishes to wear a MAGA hat to school, this is also allowed. These actions are merely expressions of opinion and do not violate the school’s terms.
These rules worked pretty well in America for some time; however, life is changing for students and educators. Technology, violence, and increased social acceptance of minority groups in recent years has caused many changes in society, and nowhere are these changes more apparent than in young people. As the landscape of education changes, the rights of students and the kinds of rules that schools enforce will be adjusted. The truth of the matter is that students today live in a societal limbo; technology has caused things to change more rapidly than schools and courts can keep up with. Student rights are not a cut and dry matter, rather they are constantly evolving, now more so than ever.