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Public high school students have a right to freedom of speech, which is not shed at the schoolhouse gates. However, the daily administration of public education is committed to school officials. That responsibility carries with it the inherent authority to prescribe and control conduct in the schools. When a conflict does arise the students' rights to free speech may not be abridged in the absence of facts, which might reasonably have led school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities. Thus, the courts have recognized that the interest of a state in the maintenance of its educational system is a compelling one, provoking a balancing of U.S. Const. amend. I rights with a state's efforts to preserve and protect its educational process.
Appellee school officials suspended appellant student for protesting at school and bringing protest signs to school. Appellant brought an action against appellee pursuant to the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 for alleged violation of his U.S. Const. amend. I rights. The district court entered judgment in favor of appellee. Appellant student sought review.
Under the circumstances, did the district court correctly uphold appellant student’s suspension?
The court reversed the district court's decision that upheld appellant student's suspension. The court held that appellee's anticipation or forecast of material interference with the school's work by appellant's signs was reasonable. Therefore, the taking of his signs was reasonable. The court held however, that the sign activity constituted the exercise of pure speech rather than conduct and as such it came within the protective umbrella of the U.S. Const. amend. I. The court held that appellee failed to show justification for its action in suspending appellant. The court held that absent justification such as a violation of a statute or school rule, appellee could not discipline appellant for exercising those rights. Consequently, appellant could not be suspended for his activities with the signs.