Students first amendment rights in schoolI just read an article about a student who was given two days of in-school suspension for a statement made during class. Apparently, his German class was...

Students first amendment rights in schoolI just read an article about a student who was given two days of in-school suspension for a statement made during class. Apparently, his German class was discussing religion. He told a friend that, as a Christian, he felt homosexuality was wrong. Now, I don't particularly agree with the student, but I can't understand why he was given such a harsh punishment. I could understand if he had directed the comment at a gay student in a bullying manner, but that's not the case. This is an honors student participating in a class discussion. Surely, discussing religion already opens the doors for this type of comment. What do you guys think? Was the punishment fair or was it an overreaction? Do students have the same right to free speech in school as adults do elsewhere?

Asked on by wannam

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pacorz's profile pic

pacorz | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

This has been bothering me, so I did some online research on the case, and it's actually pretty complex. First, for those who said they didn't see why a German class would discuss religion, I have to point out that every language teacher I know manages to work in some education about the history and culture of the country where the language being studied originated. Germany was, of course, the home of Martin Luther and the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation; I can see how a discussion on the history of Germany could have included something about religion.

However, from what I've read online, there was much more to this story than that. It  happened at a public school. The comment was made to the student's friend as an aside, not as an actual part of the discussion. The teacher apparently has a history of bringing up homosexuality in his classes, and may have had some inflammatory material displayed in his classroom. As I suspected, the parents did indeed get a lawyer. And the school has reversed the suspension.

Lots to think about, in any case. Where should the line be between opinion and out-of-bounds?

Here's a link to a bunch of news articles on the case.

stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I need to reemphasize the previous post's comments about the type and level of discussion that takes place in honors classes. If the students are truly advanced, they are thinking and processing and challenging each other and the teacher at levels far beyond anything that goes on in the "normal" classroom. The best way to handle comments that may appear to be out-of-line or inappropriate is not to jump on the speaker, but to rationally probe and extend the discussion to find the reasoning behind the comments. It's always there and usually leads to learning by everyone present.

Without knowing details already mentioned, it's hard to truly comment on the article as presented, but it sounds like a drastic over-reaction on the part of school officials with very thin skins and very limited experience in dealing with students who want to challenge the status quo.

missy575's profile pic

missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

This type of discussion regularly occurs in honors classes. If you work with these kids, you know they see values throughout literature and history. They are not afraid to discuss them in front of teachers or in their own side discussions. I have a hard time understanding how it could come up in a German class legitimately within the context of the curriculum. However, as so many have already stated, the student has a right to an opinion in America whether the opinion is politically correct or not.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I would have a hard time imagining that a student could get punished for that.  Assuming, as the others have, that the tone of voice was not negative and that there were no actual harsh words used, there is no basis on which to punish the student.  Any discussion of homosexuality, religion, and law automatically assumes that a discussion of the rights and wrongs of homosexuality are part of the educational process.  If the comments were not toned or worded so as to be disruptive, they should not have been punished.

bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I find being punished for making such a statement harsh in the extreme, but I also wonder (like many of the other posts mentioned) if the story was taken out of context. The teacher may have sent him out of the classroom so that further commentary wouldn't inflame the other students. Of course, one has to question the mindset of an administrator who would order such a punishment. Of course, as one post mentioned, this apparently did happen in Texas...

pirateteacher's profile pic

pirateteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

I believe the punishment was harsh, but I believe the intention of the rule came from a good place.  As mentioned by other teachers, we are not able to know exactly what went on in the room, and what happened to spark the conversation in the first place.  We hear and read so much from schools turning a blind eye to statements that could be construed as bullying.  Imagine being the quiet, closeted gay student in the room.  Like many schools, it seems as though this school has a zero tolerance policy, but unfortunately these policies often punish seemingly innocuous student comment's like this one.

It does make me wonder why the German class was talking about religion in the first place.

wannam's profile pic

wannam | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

I taught yearbook and I remember the kids complaining that they had no rights as we went over the case laws pertaining to student publishing. I agree students have limited rights in school, but this just seems over the top. The article didn't say if it was a public or private school, just that it was a high school in Texas. That's a good point about private schools and it could explain some of response. Of course, I don't know what his tone was because the article was one sided. The student and parent had commented, but the teacher and the school refused. According to the student, he was speaking quietly and the comment was directed at a classmate/friend behind him. Without the teacher's side of the story, I can't say for sure.
literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I would agree that the punishment is out of line. Given that the conversation was already opened up to a subject deemed controversial, I would not think that a comment made regarding homosexuality should be deemed any more inappropriate. That being said, did the article say he was speaking reasonably, or was his tone inappropriate? That would surely make a difference.

 

lorrainecaplan's profile pic

Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Students do not have the same First Amendment free speech rights as adults do.  There is a great deal of case law on this issue.  Essentially, if a school administration is pursuing a legitimate educational goal, it is allowed to repress some free speech.  Some examples are sexual content in a graduation speech and or sexual content in a school newspaper. On the other hand, students who wish to protest politically with black armbands are permitted to do so.  Generally, I think the idea is that education is such an important government objective that some rights are allowed to be repressed.  I should also say that a private school is entitled to repress whatever speech it wishes, since it is only government that people are protected from in the First Amendment.  We do not know whether the situation you relate occurred at a private or public school, but in either case, this seems like a very harsh response.

pacorz's profile pic

pacorz | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

Assuming what you read is the whole extent of the conversation, and that his tone was a reasonable one, I think the punishment is way out of line. If the student was merely expressing his opinion, then there should have been no penalty for that. It sounds to me like that school has gone to an extreme that will effectively shut down all discussion and self expression. This smacks of indoctrination: You must believe as we do, or you will be made to suffer.

I would not be surprised if the student's parents pursue legal action.

 

vandyke2014's profile pic

vandyke2014 | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

This type of comment was completely appropriate for the topic being discussed. This is a definite violation of 1st amendment rights. This type of story really should go to court, or at least require some legal action to be taken.

sudhirjangra's profile pic

sudhirjangra | College Teacher | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted on

I would have a hard time imagining that a student could get punished for that.  Assuming, as the others have, that the tone of voice was not negative and that there were no actual harsh words used, there is no basis on which to punish the student.  Any discussion of homosexuality, religion, and law automatically assumes that a discussion of the rights and wrongs of homosexuality are part of the educational process.  If the comments were not toned or worded so as to be disruptive, they should not have been punished.

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