Oct 19, 2009    #125
Contact: Laura Byerley
(816) 235-1592

UMKC School of Law celebrates 40th anniversary of Supreme Court case that defined speech rights for public school students

A former student and lawyer involved in the case speak Nov. 10

In conjunction with Northeastern Illinois University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Law will celebrate the 40th anniversary of a Supreme Court decision that defined speech rights for public school students. John Tinker (one of the student plaintiffs involved in the 1969 case) and Dan Johnston (his attorney in the case) – will present “The Real Story: An Evening with the Plaintiff, John Tinker, and His Attorney, Dan Johnston” from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10 at the UMKC School of Law E.E. Tom Thompson Courtroom, 500 E. 52nd St., Kansas City, Mo.

The case –Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District – began after five suspended students, through their fathers, filed a complaint with the United States District Court. The students had been suspended for breaking a school policy that forbade the wearing of black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. Other students had commented, ridiculed or warned the protestors; and an older football player warned other students to leave the protestors alone. Still, no violence ensued as a result of the armbands.

The plaintiffs argued that the wearing of armbands was the equivalent of speech and was thus protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. They also argued that the banning of black armbands was capricious, arbitrary and unreasonable because it singled out one form of expression rather than prohibiting the wearing of all controversial items.

The decision ruled in favor of the students, 7-2.

“In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism,” the Court noted. Rather, the Court explained in one of the most famous statements regarding student’s rights, neither students nor teachers “…shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

“This pronouncement has been a bedrock principle underlying student rights cases across the nation for the 40 years since Tinker,” said Daniel Weddle, UMKC School of Law professor. “While many would argue that the principle has been imperfectly applied and, perhaps, significantly eroded over that time, it nevertheless dramatically changed the nation’s view of students’ constitutional rights in public schools and repudiated the notion that students are merely creatures of the state, subject to the unchecked authoritarian control of school officials.”

Following is a schedule of events that will take place Nov. 10 at the UMKC School of Law E.E. Tom Thompson Courtroom, 500 E. 52nd St., Kansas City, Mo.:

  • 12:30 p.m. – Registration
  • 1-1:50 p.m. – “Tinker over the Years: How the Courts Have Treated Tinker,” led by UMKC School of Law Professor Allen Rostron
  • 1:50-2:40 p.m. – “Mean Speech: Addressing Hate Speech, Cyberbullying, Harassment and Other Forms of Hurtful Expression in Schools,” led by Steven M. Brown, professor of Educational Leadership and Educational Law at Northeastern Illinois University and UMKC School of Law Professor Daniel B. Weddle
  • • 2:40-2:55 p.m. – Break
  • • 2:55-3:45 p.m. – “Keeping the Gate Open: Representing Plaintiffs in School Speech Cases,” led by Doug Bonney, American Civil Liberties Union
  • • 3:45-4:35 p.m. – “Getting It Right: Practical Tips for Handling Speech Issues in the School Setting,” led by Curtis Tideman, Lathrop & Gage, LLP
  • 4:35-6 p.m. – Dinner break
  • 6-7 p.m. – “The Real Story: An Evening with the Plaintiff, John Tinker, and His Attorney, Dan Johnston,” presented by John Tinker and Dan Johnston

The lecture is free for educators, but registration is required (contact Lawyers can earn Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits for $95 and educators can earn Continuing Education credits for a nominal fee.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a four-part mission: life and health sciences; visual and performing arts; urban issues and education; and a vibrant learning and campus life experience.

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This information is available to people with speech or hearing impairments by calling Relay Missouri at (800) 735-2966 (TT) or (800) 735-2466 (voice).


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