Thomas v. Board of Ed. v. Granville Cent. Sch. Dist., 607 F.2d 1043 (2nd Cir. 1979)
Several students published a newspaper entitled Hard Times that lampooned the school environment. The students created the newspapers largely on their own time and distributed the paper off-campus. Nonetheless, school officials suspended the students for five days for publishing an allegedly "morally offensive, indecent, and obscene" publication.
The students sued, claiming a violation of their First Amendment rights. They argued that school officials did not have the authority to punish them for their off-campus activities. A district court sided with the school. The students then appealed.
Whether school officials can, consistent with the First Amendment, punish students for the content of publications that were created and distributed off-campus.
In a unanimous panel decision, the Second Circuit ruled that the authority of school officials does not extend beyond the schoolhouse gate, certainly in the context of regulating purely expressive activity.
School officials must have broad discretion to oversee their many responsibilities. "But our willingness to defer to the schoolmaster’s expertise in administering school discipline rests, in large measure, upon the supposition that the arm of authority does not reach beyond the schoolhouse gate." The students' publication was printed and distributed outside the school. The panel reasoned that "any activity within the school itself was 'de minimis'" or very minimal.
"When school officials are authorized only to punish speech on school property, the student is free to speak his mind when the school day ends." (Judge Irving R. Kaufman)
Sunday, December 8, 2013 | 10:59:07