Thursday, February 21, 2008

Regulating Student Speech

Students in a Southern California high school embraced the Eve Ensler "V Day" concept and devoted last week's issue of the school newspaper to vaginas. School officials reacted by confiscating the papers.
[T]he labeled diagram of a vagina splashed across the front page of the student newspaper's Valentine's Day issue . . . ran under the hot-pink headline "Have a happy Vagina Day!" and the four-page edition included stories titled "Ending shame for nature's gift" and "Rejected!!!!!!!"
California students are some of the only in the country with special state laws protecting their rights to free expression in school, said Mike Hiestand, attorney and legal consultant to the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va. Six other states have similar laws, he said. Typically, Hiestand said, students can publish whatever they like, as long as the speech is not unlawful or "seriously disruptive."
After a flurry of overnight MySpace bulletins, [Edmond, a student editor] and other students showed up at school Friday wearing homemade white, black and pink T-shirts reading "My vagina is obscene."

Similar fliers were taped to backpacks and posted around school. When Edmond, who describes himself as a community activist, and two other protesters refused to change their clothes, school officials sent them home.
Lots of great issues here: Was the paper seriously disruptive? Should it have been (presumably these kids have had sex ed)? Is a shirt with the word "vagina" seriously disruptive? Is it more so than a shirt proclaiming "Abortion is Murder" or emblazoned with a slogan insulting the president? I am on the kids' side but skeptical of their intentions.
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