Law School Case Brief
Denooyer v. Merinelli - No. 92-2080, 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 30084 (6th Cir. Nov. 18, 1993)
Educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.
Plaintiff Kelly DeNooyer was enrolled in the second grade at McKinley Elementary School in Livonia, Michigan, for the school year 1990-91. In December 1990, Kelly's teacher, Ms. Solomon, started a program in her classroom called "VIP of the Week." The program was submitted to and approved by defendant Van Poperin, the principal of McKinley Elementary School, thus becoming part of the curriculum for second grade students in Ms. Solomon's class. The program called for the weekly selection of a student VIP, who would wear an identifying badge and bring to class various items to describe to his or her classmates. The primary purpose of this program was to increase the students' self-confidence and poise by focusing attention on them and giving them the opportunity to make verbal presentations to the class about items that were interesting or important to them. In December 1990, Kelly DeNooyer was chosen "VIP of the Week." On December 13, 1990, Kelly DeNooyer brought a videotape to class and asked that it be shown. The videotape recorded her performance of a religious song at a worship service of the Temple Baptist Church of Redford, Michigan, of which she and her parents were members. Ms. Solomon concluded the videotape was inappropriate because she believed it would frustrate the intent of the program to encourage self-confidence. She also believed showing videotapes would waste time because videotapes required previewing by the teacher and approval by the school district and required equipment to be arranged for. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan granted summary judgment in favor of defendants and Denooyer appealed.
Was the public school’s refusal to let second grade student DeNooyer show her class a videotape of her singing a religious song violative of the First Amendment?
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants. The Court held that the school could reasonably regulate student expression within the closed forum of the classroom without violating the First Amendment. Denooyer’s videotape was part of the class curriculum and was school-sponsored expression. The school could regulate the style and content of the videotape, provided the regulation was reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns of the school because the school had not opened the classroom for use as a public forum. The pedagogical concerns related to the medium of the videotape regardless of the content.
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