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Reasonable Forecasts

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According to Kelley R. Taylor, Esq., in the February issue of Principal Leadership, “Courts recognize that principals are the best judges of what will disrupt their schools, but they still must provide evidence that their decisions are based on fact.” The article discusses the A. M. v. Cash case (October 2009 – U. S. Court of Appeals for the 5th District) where the court did uphold a lower court ruling that the school did not violate student free speech when it prohibited any display of the Confederate flag, which the school named in its policies as an inappropriate symbol.

Taylor warns principals that they cannot just intuit a disruption, but they can  make a ‘reasonable forecast’ only when that ‘certain proscribed speech’ would cause substantial disruption based on clear and substantial information gained from inquiry.   It is interesting to note that the Superior Court used the Tinker standard as reference to support he administrator’s ‘reasonable forecast’ of disruption.

What does this mean to student journalists?  Fortunately, Tinker is a strong standard to protect student expression.  However,  Tinker can be used in stop student expression. Without a doubt, Tinker still establishes the standard for administrators to follow when censoring student expression.  Principals must be able to “reasonably forecast” disruption in school when deciding to censor student publications.  This is a cautionary article admonishing administrators to gather strong evidence through extensive  investigation or from past history within the individual school to claim “reasonable forecast” as a reason for censoring student expression.

Perhaps principals could take a lesson from  student journalists across the country who do extensive research before they actually write their stories and publish them in student publications.

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