Pyle v. School Committee of South Hadley, 423 Mass. 283, 667 N.E.2d 869 (1996).
Two public school students wore several "Co-ed Naked . . ." t-shirts that school officials deemed vulgar. When school officials told the students they could not wear the shirts, the students sued in federal court.
The federal appeals court eventually asked the state supreme court to interpret a state law that seemed to give students greater protection than they receive under the First Amendment.
Whether, under Massachusetts law, public high school students are free to engage in any expression they choose, even if deemed vulgar by the school, as long as the speech is neither disruptive nor school-sponsored.
In a unanimous decision, the court held that Massachusetts law protects students' rights to engage in vulgar, non-school-sponsored speech as long as it does not cause a disruption at school.
Massachusetts law provides: "The right of students to freedom of expression in the public schools of the commonwealth shall not be abridged, provided that such right shall not cause any disruption or disorder within the school." The state high court noted that this language is "clear and unambiguous." The statute contains no exception for vulgar or offensive expression that is not disruptive.
"Our Legislature is free to grant greater rights to the citizens of this Commonwealth than would otherwise be protected under the United States Constitution." (Judge Paul J. Liacos)
Wednesday, October 18, 2017 | 14:34:28