Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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In the landmark case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 89 S. Ct. 733, 21 L. Ed. 2d 731 (1969), the U.S. Supreme Court extended the First Amendment's right to freedom of expression to public school students. The ruling, which occurred during the VIETNAM WAR, granted students

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the right to express their political opinions as long as they did not disrupt the classroom. The Court made clear that public school administrators and school boards could not restrict FIRST AMENDMENT rights based on a general fear of disruption.

The case grew out of political opposition to the Vietnam War. In December 1965 a group of students in the Des Moines public school system decided to protest the war. John Tinker, 15 years old, his 13-year-old sister Mary Beth, and 16-year-old Christopher Eckhardt sought to publicize their antiwar position and their support for a truce by wearing black armbands to school in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays. School administrators became aware of the plan to wear armbands and immediately adopted a new policy that prohibited the wearing of armbands. Students who refused to remove them would be suspended until they agreed not to wear them. The three students, who were aware of the policy, arrived at their schools a few days later wearing the armbands. They were promptly suspended and sent home. They did not return to school until after the holiday season, when their planned protest period had expired.

The three teenagers filed a CIVIL RIGHTS lawsuit in federal court through their fathers, asking that the court issue an INJUNCTION that would bar the school system from disciplining the students. The district court sided with the school board, concluding that the schools had acted reasonably to prevent a disturbance of school discipline. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this ruling on an evenly divided vote. The students then brought their case to the Supreme Court.

The Court, in a 7?2 decision, overturned the lower court rulings. Justice ABE FORTAS, in his majority opinion, stated at the outset that students and teachers do not "shed their constitutional rights to FREEDOM OF SPEECH or expression at the schoolhouse door." However, he acknowledged that the Court had upheld the authority of school officials to "prescribe and control conduct in the schools." Thus, the issue before the Court concerned the area...

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