In Bradford v. Norwich City School District, 3:12-cv-1888, the defendant school suspended a student for 5 days, for sending texts to a friend while in their respective living rooms expressed the desire to harm (slapping, kneeing, kicking) a female student. The Northern District Judge, Glenn Suddaby held that the school neither violated the student’s First Amendment rights nor his Parents Fourteenth Amendment rights to raise their child as they saw fit.
The female discovered the texts on the friend’s phone while in school causing her to become emotional which lead to a teacher being shown the texts.
Judge Suddaby held that the suspension was constitutional as a reasonable act to protect the school had the student harmed the female student. The decision notes that the rights of students are “not coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings.” Schools have the right to prohibit expression that will “materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.” Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969).
The legal issue here centered on whether these texts could reasonably be seen to disrupt the work and discipline of the school.” Both parents and the student’s lawyer characterized the texts as typical “drama that goes on among teenagers in high schools throughout the country” and disputed that this is the type of expression which could “disrupt work and discipline of the school.” The student’s parents are naturally concerned the incident will harm the student’s prospect of getting into college and sought to have the court expunge the incident from his record. They intend to appeal.
Regardless of the outcome of this decision, it seems clear that the parents here are correct in at least one thing. This type of speech is likely ubiquitous among teenage boys. The decision and the reaction of the school would appear to put a large population of teenagers at grave risk for committing a life altering blunder far in advance of their developing the maturity to appreciate the potential consequences of sending a private text message to a friend.