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The right to express opinions on school premises is not absolute. It is well within the parameters of school officials' authority to prohibit the public expression of vulgar and offensive comments and to teach civility and sensitivity in the expression of opinions.
Plaintiff-appellant had brought suit under 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 1983 and 1988, alleging that the school officials violated her First Amendment rights when they conditioned her continued participation on the sophomore basketball team on her apologizing to her teammates for writing a letter which criticized the varsity coach. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted. According to the district court, the plaintiff-appellant’s letter materially interfered or substantially disrupted a school activity. Plaintiff-appellant challenged the decision.
Did the defendant school officials violate plaintiff’s First Amendment rights?
The court affirmed the dismissal on summary judgment, holding that the distribution of the letter, containing the word "bullshit" in relation to other language in it and motivated by her disappointment at not playing on the varsity team, constituted insubordinate speech toward her coaches. Since the speech called only for an apology, no basis existed for a claim of a violation of free speech.