Sunday, September 23, 2007

A public school power grab

Back in June, the Supreme Court ruled against a teenager who unfurled a banner saying "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" because the message could be interpreted as promoting drug use. The case grew out of an incident in which Juneau, Alaska high school senior Joseph Frederick unfurled a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" on a public sidewalk during a privately-sponsored rally where townspeople watched the Olympic torch pass by. Students were released from school to attend the rally. The high school's pep band and cheerleaders were there, but an Alaska court found that teacher supervision of other teenagers at the rally was "minimal or nonexistent." (note my emphasis)

The justices' reason for ruling against this young man misses a much bigger point. Since when does a public school have jurisdiction over children's activities when they are on a public sidewalk at a privately-sponsored event? Notice I didn't call them students. Just because they go to school doesn't mean they should be called students. When they're not in school, they're not students. So why did the school administration punish this kid for something he did outside of school? If it was a public disruption, the police would have handled it.

Nowhere else in our society are first amendment rights so severely restricted. And now, it appears that the court's have just widened the school's jurisdiction. So, a child can be punished for actions deemed inappropriate by the school even when they're not in school. Great.

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