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Torts and Responsibility
Stephanie Lara
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At a high school in the northeastern United States they initiated a policy prohibiting the

wearing of gang symbols such as jewelry, emblems, earrings, and athletic caps. This policy was

put in place based on gang activities that were prevalent in the school. Now after this policy is in

effect a student Bill Foster, who wasn't involved in the gang activity wore an earring to school as

a form of self-expression and a belief that the earring was attractive to young ladies. He was

suspended for his act and late he filed suit.

Bills freedom of expression rights were violated in this case because if he wants to wear

an earring and he has no former relationship with the policy that was put in place on gang

activities then he wasnt wearing the earring in support of any negative activity or wrong doing.

The school is over stepping their boundaries on the policy that they put in place and are not

allowing him to his rights to express him. He was not being offensive or encouraging any

negative behavior.

The First Amendment protects all forms of expression, not only verbal communication.

Protected expression may also be written or symbolic. Symbolic speech is defined as an action

intended to convey a message. If it is a symbolic act it is protected as speech. Even some forms

of dress can be symbolic speech. For example, a student wears gang colors as a symbol in order

to express his or her gang affiliation.

In the case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1965) students wore black

armbands to school and when school officials asked them to remove them they refused to take

off their black armbands therefore, the school suspended them. The Supreme Court said It can

hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional right to freedom of

speech or expression at the school house gate. The Court found that the suspensions were
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unconstitutional and this case therefore supports Bills freedom of expression. The Supreme

Court sided with the students.

In the Burnside v. Byars (1966) court case a group of school students at an all-black

school in Philadelphia wore "freedom buttons" to school to protest racial segregation. The

principal ordered them to take them off he believed that the buttons would "cause commotion"

and "disturb the school program." The principal ending up suspending the students for a week.

Due to the First Amendment rights you cannot infringe on students' right to free and

unrestricted expression. The Fifth Circuit panel held that school officcials could not prohibit the

wearing of the "freedom buttons" because there was no evidence that the buttons would have

caused enough substantial disruption.

Now on the other hand the school district has just put a new policy into affect and the

very next day Bill comes to school and they notice the earring immediately. Which to them is

cause for concern and action therefore they suspend him for wearing an earring to school even

though it was in no relation to the gang activities. The school doesnt see that they are violating

any rights as they have just gone over policy and are following the rules.

In the court case Stephenson v. Davenport Community School District (1992), Brianna

Stephenson was an honor roll student in High School and her teachers described her as

conscientious and diligent. During this time, gang activity at West High School became a

problem and school considered gang-related activities such as display of colors, symbols, signs,

etc would not be tolerated on school grounds. Student in violation would be suspended are

expelled from school grounds. Brianna had a meeting with her counselor and he noticed her

cross tattoo he deemed it as a gang relation and suspended her until it was removed or covered.

She spent lots of money to have it removed then returned to school and filed lawsuit that her free
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speech was violated. However, the United States District Court dismissed her case but the United

States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit heard her appeal. They ruled that the school

districts policy was unconstitutional.

In the Chandler v McMinnville School District (1966) court case a group of teachers

went on strike. Two of the students parent's were involved in the strike these students wore

buttons with the word "scab" on them and then distributed them to their classmates the next day

at school. School officials prohibited the students from wearing the buttons. The students sued

claiming their First Amendment rights were violated. The lower court sided with the school

district in this case against the students.

I feel that the Court would rule in favor of Bill Fosters case. His constitutional rights

were violated over the wearing of an earring to school. Now, if he had worn the earring for gang

activity or was a troublesome student prior to when the policy went into effect that would be

more understanding. Bill Foster has the right to wear an earring for his own liking or if it is to get

a girls attention.
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Burnside v. Byars,363 F.2d 744 (5th Circ..1966) Retrieved September

27, 2015

Chandler v. McMinnville School Dist., 978 F.2d 524 (9th Cir. 1992)

Retrieved September 27, 2015 web

Gangs, Tattoos, and Symbolic Speech Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme


Underwood, Julie and Webb, L Dean, School Law for Teachers Concepts and Applications


Jacobs, Tom 10 Supreme Court Cases Every Teen Should Know 09/15/08

Tinker v. Des Moines