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Hardwick v. Heyward - 674 F. Supp. 2d 725 (D.S.C. 2009)

Rule:

In applying the Tinker standard to a school prohibition on Confederate symbols, courts allow school officials to rely on past incidents of racial tension in anticipating a future disruption, even if those prior incidents did not directly involve the Confederate flag. Nothing in Melton or Tinker requires evidence of a preexisting incident of the banned symbol evoking disruption. Courts do not require that prior incidents of racial tension occur during actual classroom instruction, or even on the campus of the school that the student-plaintiff attended, to support a reasonable forecast of future disruption. Incidents of prior racial tension need not necessarily be violent. A plaintiff's own conduct need not disrupt or interfere with school activities before school authorities may enforce a ban on Confederate flag clothing. A plaintiff's personal interpretation of the Confederate flag and its meaning is largely irrelevant in determining whether a ban on Confederate flag clothing is constitutionally permissible. School officials need not prove conclusively that the prior incidents on which they justified the ban were, in fact, racially motivated so long as they had reasonable evidence from which to anticipate a future disruption.

Facts:

Hardwick, by and through her parents instituted a lawsuit for damages and injunctive relief against defendants, middle school and high school principals, and a school district's board of trustees, for violating her constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression, due process, and equal protection under the U.S. and South Carolina Constitutions by requiring her to remove clothing displaying the Confederate flag. The defendants moved for summary judgment. The student contested the motion.

Issue:

Should summary judgment be entered in favor of defendants?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

In rejecting the student's First Amendment free speech and free expression claim, the court found that, based on a history of racial tension, including recent incidents within the middle school and high school, defendants possessed substantial facts that reasonably supported a forecast that Confederate flag clothing was likely to disrupt the schools' educational environment. Accordingly, the court held that it was reasonable for defendants to conclude that if the student was permitted to wear Confederate flag T-shirts, further tension, discord, and disruptions would occur and interfere with school activities. In rejecting the student's equal protection claim regarding enforcement of the schools' dress codes, the court found that the student failed to present any evidence showing that the dress codes were not enforced against all racially divisive symbols, regardless of viewpoint. The court also rejected the student's facial challenge to the dress codes, finding that they were not unconstitutionally overbroad, but were appropriate to prevent a substantial disruption of school activities. The dress codes also provided adequate advance notice of the ban on Confederate clothing.

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