The title of this blog, “Substantial Disruption,” is taken from the famous U. S. Supreme Court case of Tinker v Des Moines School District. Until recently, that case provided a basis on which courts could examine discipline relating to expression and help educators know when they can legally discipline expression and when they can’t. In close cases, courts frequently looked for evidence of “substantial disruption” before sanctioning the imposition of discipline. However, the title, “Substantial Disruption” also refers to what appears to be the impact of Morse v Frederick on freedom of expression in schools. That case, dealing with the infamous “Bong Hits for Jesus” banner, seems to have created a new basis for discipline, one that is not well-defined. The consequence thus far appears to be an erosion of freedom of expression in public schools.
Public schools have historically been political dancing grounds, where adults impose their agendae onto children, frequently turning children into their surrogates as they fight over freedom of speech, assembly, and religion. Courts have recognized that students in public schools enjoy the rights and freedoms of all persons in this country, while recognizing that the rights might be less expansive in a school setting. While it is true, for example, that children don’t shed their First Amendments at the schoolhouse gate, they face restrictions that adults escape.
Recently, the creation and adoption of the Internet spawned new and perplexing challenges for educators. The advent of cell phones and web sites has brought new issues that the law is barely keeping up with. How can teachers and school administrators know what is legal (i.e., constitutional) discipline and what is not? How should the law deal with blogs? Or web pages? Or social network sites? Educators and legal experts are still working it out.
That’s where this blog comes in. This is a place where legal and educational professionals can meet to discuss ideas, share information and research, and even share drafts of articles. This blog and its parent website represent one channel in a growing number of sites devoted to the issues brought to us by cyberspace. However, the goal of this site is to help educators and lawyers meet and greet in cyberspace and help each other define the rules for our brave new cyberworld. Attorneys who are involved with schools have a perspective that educators don’t share, and vice versa. Neither discipline, acting alone, is likely to make any progress toward a world in which we balance Internet-based expression with the need to provide safe schools and secure learning environments.
So, we invite educators, attorneys, school safety personnel and researchers to visit this forum and ask questions and share ideas. Or maybe just vent. That, at least, would be therapeutic.
Author’s Note: The Tinker-based title is wryly based on the late blog, “Schoolhouse Gate,” which was operated by my friend and colleague, Scott McLeod (Iowa State University).