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Leading Education Groups Urge Supreme Court to Review Errant Ruling in Student Speech Case

January 6, 2014

Alexandria, Va. (Jan. 6, 2014) - The National School Boards Association (NSBA), joined by other leading education groups and a state school boards association, is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to accept Easton Area Sch. Dist. v. B.H for review and to reverse the appellate court’s decision as contrary to well-established Supreme Court precedent.

The case focuses on a school district decision to require two female students at a Pennsylvania middle school  to remove bracelets with the slogan, “I  ♥ Boobies KEEP A BREAST,” because of reports that the bracelets were causing a distraction for students, including instances of possible sexual harassment.

NSBA is joined by AASA, the School Superintendents Association; the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) in asking the Supreme Court to reverse the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and reaffirm that school officials have authority to determine that messages such as “I [heart] Boobies” disrupt the school environment and interfere with the rights of others.

“NSBA is representing the voices of parents and others who want their children focused on education and protected from lewd speech while attending public schools,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “This important amicus brief urges the Supreme Court to recognize the authority of school officials to regulate student speech during the school day if such speech disrupts the school environment or interferes with the responsibility of schools to teach civil discourse as an inherent democratic value and to protect the rights and sensibilities of other students.”

“The Third Circuit ruling forces school officials to jettison educational judgments for highly legalistic ones in a way that jeopardizes the day-to-day work of public schools and potentially harms students,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “This ruling misreads Supreme Court precedent recognizing that school officials have the authority to determine what is appropriate speech in schools and to limit student expression that is contrary to their educational mission.”

The appellate court introduced a new standard that conflates language from two separate Supreme Court cases in a way that leaves school officials subject to litigation and restricts their ability to maintain harassment-free school environments. It replaces well-established precedents with a legally complex test that requires school officials to discern whether the student speech is “plainly lewd” or “ambiguously lewd.” If the speech falls into the latter category, it may not be regulated if it could be interpreted as political or social commentary.

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Founded in 1940, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is a not-for-profit organization representing state associations of school boards and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. Working with and through our state associations, NSBA advocates for equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. www.nsba.org

NSBA Amicus Brief link:  http://www.nsba.org/sites/default/files/reports/Easton-Area-School-District-v-BH.pdf

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