Bullying in the School System, Student Rights

Bullying in the school system, student rights… do you know your student rights in your school? Do you know which of your student rights are protected? Do you know which of your student rights are NOT protected?

How safe is your child and / or teenager in school? Do you trust your school system?

I bring this up today in this post as a result from a meeting I had yesterday afternoon with a small group of local parents whose kids are being severely bullied in the schools the kids attend. As the discussion continued, I had a flashback from one of my communication classes I had while in undergraduate school – Communication and The Freedom of the Press.

As soon as I returned home from that meeting, I took out the old textbook in which was the required text for the class (yes, I still have my old college textbooks), and it took about a half hour to find what I was looking for…

LANDMARK CASE: Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U. S. 503 (1969). Decided February 24, 1969.

Even though the subject matter of this case does not involve bullying, it does involve the First Amendment Rights in the Schools of the students.

“…In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are ‘persons’ under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State. In our system, students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved. In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views…


… A student’s rights… do not embrace merely the classroom hours. When he is in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during the authorized hours, he may express his opinions, even on controversial subjects, if he does so without ‘materially and substantially interfer [ing] with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school’ and without colliding with the rights of others…


But conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason – whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior – materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.” (Tedford, Thomas L. Freedom of Speech in the United States; Special Issues: Institutional Constraints, The Schools, the Military, and Prisons. PG 296 – 97).

Bullying Fact #1: The following excerpt is from USLegal.com Defines Bullying:

The following is an example of a school policy defining bullying:

For the purpose of this policy, “bullying” means any physical act or gesture or any verbally, written or electronically communicated expression that”

A. A reasonable person should expect will have the effect of:

1. Physically harming a student or damaging a student’s property.

2. Placing a student in reasonable fear of physical harm or damage to his/her property; or

3. Substantially disrupting the instructional program or the orderly operations of the school; or

4. Is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, hostile educational environment for the student who is bullied.


“The Tinker decision, which established the disruption rule for judging the First Amendment rights of students, was the high-water mark for Supreme Court defense of student free speech.”


…In Bethel School District v. Fraser, 478 U. S. 675 (1986), the High Court upheld a public school’s disciplinary action of a student for making an allegedly “vulgur” speech during a campus election campaign.”


…”In an opinion by Chief Justice Burger, the High Court said that ‘the constitutional rights of students in public school are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings, that the Tinker decision did not prevent schools from punishing ‘offensively lewd and indecent speech,’ and that a ‘high school assembly or classroom is no place for a sexually explicit monologue directed towards an unsuspecting audience of teenage students.’ A primary duty of the public schools, said the Chief Justice, is to ‘inculcate the habits and manners of civility,’ and – in a harbinger of things to come… stressed that the ‘determination of what manner of speech in the classroom or in school assembly is inappropriate properly rests with the school board.'” (Tedford, Thomas L. Freedom of Speech in the United States; Special Issues: Institutional Constraints, The Schools, the Military, and Prisons. PG 297 – 98). 

Bullying Fact #2: Not only is bullying vulgur, lewd, and rude language, but it also is physical, emotional, and mental actions directed towards others – even teachers.

My point to this…

Since when did the school system become so uneducational and unsafe for students so as to promote bullying in their schools by not becoming involved when a student (or students) is bullied by ignoring the bullying, “wiping it under the rug,” and thinking it will go away, when there are written and recorded events of it happening in the schools via the victim and the victim’s parents, yet the schools response is that it never happened? What happened to the civility in the classroom?

Oh, and as defined above in the Tinker and Bethel School District cases, even though bullying is not the subject of them, I would think that bullies ARE NOT protected under the The First Amendment Rights of Students.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

Bullying in the School System, Student Rights (Video):


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Let’s End Bullying Together!






Colleen Burns

EMAIL: colleenburns@yourlifemattersempowerment.org

SKYPE: colleen.burns62

PS: To hear more about my own experiences with bullying, click here: http://yourlifemattersempowerment.org/bullying-and-the-martial-arts/i-am-a-survivor-an-autobiography-of-bullying/

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