Thursday, August 14, 2008

Debating Student Rights and Southern History

UPDATE: Judge declares mistrial in the case due to jury deadlock.

Can a school system's dress code policy curb your free speech? An Anderson County student says so and is suing over the way he was treated because he wore clothes with images of the Confederate Flag, and he wants to change the policy and seeks punitive damages to boot.

The Supreme Court has weighed in on the issues of students' rights and those of school officials several times, with varying results.

Today, the KNS reports the jury in the case is rather stumped on what approach to take to the case:

Is there a better way to resolve this than common sense?” the jury foreman wrote.

The panel also asked whether wording in various legal definitions and instructions had connotations other than the typical definitions or understandings of those words, which included material and substantial.

Attorneys on both sides said they were uncertain how to answer the jury’s query.

“I don’t know if the case law answers this,” attorney Arthur F. Knight III said. He represents school officials.

Defoe’s attorney, Van R. Irion, remarked, “These words are in the dictionary. I don’t know how to answer this question to the jury. I suppose the answer is keep talking about it.”

Varlan agreed. He sent back a note to the jury with the following instruction.

“Please continue to consider all the instructions as a whole given you.”

The flag certainly has a context of history, but like it or not, that history also includes the emblem being used in bigoted attacks. To see only part of the history is the student's right, but don't schools historically have the right to determine dress codes?

The comments from folks at the WBIR website on the story is full of heated talk, argument and sheer hysteria.

It reminds me of a something a friend told me a long time ago - "High school is tough, but I got over it."


  1. The history of the flag, good or bad, is irrelevant here. The issue is "was his constitutional rights violated?" and the answer is No. You don't have free speech rights in school. Schools have rules and if you don't want to abide, you don't have to attend. Same as work.

  2. truly, this kid's history claim is irrelevant. it's the school, it's their rules. ask that other kid who held up a sign at a parade that said Bong Hits 4 Jesus.

    sadly, it sounds like half the jury in Anderson County is siding with the faux rebel.

  3. I had to wear a uniform! Belt buckle? If I had worn jeans I would have been sent home!

    I have never had less sympathy for a kid in my life.

  4. Anonymous6:43 PM

    Glen, it seems you would be supportive of those "free speech zones" Bush erects for protesters wherever he goes.

    The rights we enjoy apply in every place which calls itself part of the United States.

    There are also these unfortunate things called truancy laws--so yes, you do have to attend. It's not the same as work. In the U.S. one chooses where he/she goes to work if the employer agrees to hire that person. In public school children are horded together by what zone they live in. Not everyone can afford private school or to homeschool (although homeschooling parents should receive an equivalent tax break since).

  5. Anonymous12:57 PM

    Schools have a right and obligation to enforce a reasonable level of discipline which includes dress codes. And students' free speech rights have been pretty consistently ruled to be more limited in school. The kid could wear a big rebel flag dildo on his head off campus, so there you go. Not to get too much into the flag debate except to say it was irrevocably turned into a symbol of hate and bigotry during the Civil Rights Movement when the heritage folks allowed it to be used by the racist folks in that manner. Sorry, but if you have a problem with that, you should have taken better care of your symbols (why honor and celebrate a bunch of traitors, anyway?).