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Ammunition to help define disruption Part 2 of a series

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Although we hoped Tinker v DesMoines might be the definitive word for what is material or substantial disruption in schools, recent events involving digital media and off-campus expression keep the issue alive – and contentious.

School safety issues, including arguments that schools need to protect themselves from cyberbullying and other off-campus speech issues making their way to campus, continue to raise questions about what is disruptive speech.

That is why a master’s thesis at Arizona State University by Kristy Roschke might be helpful not only for advisers, but students and administrators.

“More than 50 years later, Tinker still plays a vital role in protecting the First Amendment rights of students; however, the somewhat vague concept of “material or substantial disruption” has created confusion and disagreement amongst the courts,” Roschke wrote in her thesis.

Roschke cites a “mismatched set of guidelines from various cases that lead is confusing guidelines for administrators to work with, and often misapply to current situations.

Results of her study indicate the majority of decisions made by school administrators fall in category she calls “merely upsetting,” and do not reach the category of  “truly disruptive.”

“Administrators’ actions often showed a misinterpretation or complete disregard for the rights granted to students by the Court,” Roschke writes, “all in the name of avoiding conflict that may or may not occur. What is worse is that, when left unchecked, school administrators are largely getting away with stifling student expression for whatever reason they deem appropriate.”

The purpose of this post then is to provide advisers and administrators with access to Roschke’s work in hopes examining it will be used to prevent misunderstanding, misinterpretation and, ultimately, censorship.

Our posting comes in two forms: an executive summary of the thesis and the entire thesis.

The full thesis provides a thorough examination of court decisions and legal standards cited and the implications of the court decisions.

We thank Kristy for agreeing to let us post her work. We hope you will find it as informative and useful as we did.

Part 1 of this series: Sisley v Seattle and liability.

Part 3 of the series will focus on reporting controversy or what can be seen as controversial.

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