The Legacy of Tinker v. Des Moines Five Decades Later


Written by: Lane Barrette, Co-Editor

The precedent set by Tinker v Des Moines gave students more rights to speech and press now than ever before.

“I use my freedom of speech every day whether I think of it as a right or not. [As a journalist], we have been able to cover several controversial topics and not be silenced,” said senior co-editor Trinity Krouse.

Fifty years ago on Feb. 24, 1969, the Supreme Court voted with a 7-2 decision in favor of student’s right to freedom of speech in public schools after being presented the case of Tinker v. Des Moines.

After the court ruling occurred, students’ rights became a normal precedented ideal in public education around the nation. States, such as Kansas, have passed legislation that grants student-run school media, such as school newspapers, complete protection from censorship from an administrator if no hate speech is used because of Tinker v Des Moines.

“A good example of something similar happening here would be the walkout last year. Some media outlets made it more of a story than it should have been. If the admin[istration] had been aware beforehand that the students wanted to voice their opinions, it would have been allowed as long as it doesn’t affect the school setting,” said athletic director Ross Schwisow.

In relation to a more similar comparison, BLHS admins would choose to analyze if the speech/article of clothing/flag/etc. was used as hate speech or rather just simply a display.

“We run into [issues] whenever students bring confederate flags to school. The school can make the argument that if something causes disruption, the administration can take a step. However, there is most of the time, not a complete cause, but rather a potential to cause, and as an admin, we can’t do anything if it’s just a potential to cause harm,” said superintendent David Howard.

The administration would refrain from interacting in these case because of the legal precedent, as well as their beliefs that scenarios like these allow students to learn how to respond to confrontation.

“Whenever we come across a student wearing or doing something that doesn’t seem to cause hatred but pressures confrontation, we use those as learning opportunities. Those individual students may receive some pushback or support from other students and as a result, becomes a learning opportunity to all students,” said Howard.