Too Young For Rights?

The 9th Curcuit of the US Court of Appeals has reaffirmed that Constitutional and Civil Rights are not fully applicable or to be enjoyed by juveniles in the setting of a state-run school with their decision upon Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District.

They have ruled that it is no violation of students’ rights to force them to either leave school or change clothes for wearing shirts with the US Flag upon them on Cinco de Mayo. Such juveniles don’t have the same level rights as adults enjoy under the law.

Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District

SUMMARY
Civil Rights

The panel affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in a civil rights suit brought by high school students who were asked to remove clothing bearing images of the American flag after school officials learned of threats of race-related violence during a school-sanctioned celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

The panel held that school officials did not violate the students’ rights to freedom of expression, due process, or equal protection. The panel held given the history of prior events at the school, including an altercation on campus, it was reasonable for school officials to proceed as though the threat of a potentially violent disturbance was real. The panel held that school officials anticipated violence or substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities, and their response was tailored to the circumstances.

OPINION

McKeown, Circuit Judge:

First Amendment rights and the operational and safety needs of schools. As we noted in Wynar v. Douglas County School District, 728 F.3d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir. 2013), “school administrators face the daunting task of evaluating potential threats of violence and keeping their students safe without impinging on their constitutional rights.” In this case, after school officials learned of threats of race-related violence during a school-sanctioned celebration of Cinco de Mayo, the school asked a group of students to remove clothing bearing images of the American flag.

The students brought a civil rights suit against the school district and two school officials, alleging violations of their federal and state constitutional rights to freedom of expression, equal protection, and due process. We affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment as to the only defendant party to this appeal, Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez, and its denial of the students’ motion for summary judgment, on all claims. School officials anticipated violence or substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities, and their response was tailored to the circumstances. As a consequence, we conclude that school officials did not violate the students’ rights to freedom of expression, due process, or equal protection.

Given the text of the opinion in the 1969 case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District this was a solid legal decision on the part of the Court. Tinker did, after all, hold that school administrators could violate the constitutional and civil rights of students for the purpose of maintaining order and preventing disruption of the normal operations of the school.  As disruption in the form of violence was likely, Mckeown’s ruling, displeasing as it is, was right based upon earlier Court precedents.

It’d be better if the 9th Circuit had undertaken to decide that, even in the case of minors in school, “Hecklers’ Vetoes” are unconstitutional. Sadly, the 9th Circuit and Judge McKeown is particular has a trend in holding strictly to Tinker. Expecting a significant policy change isn’t really realistic.

A Small Thought Experiment

What actually happened was that during the school’s 2010 Cinco de Mayo celebration, a Hispanic Assistant Principal, Miguel Rodriguez demanded that some White students remove their shirts which had the US Flag on them because Hispanic students were likely to become violent towards them based upon both current and previous behavior by those Hispanic students.

That was not a violation of any the White students’ rights.

What could have happened in an alternate reality is that during that 2010 Cinco de Mayo celebration a Caucasian Assistant Principal, John Smith demanded that some Hispanic students remove their shirts which had the Mexican Flag on them because White students were likely to become violent towards them based upon both current and previous behavior by those White students.

Care to wager whether or not that would have been a violation those Hispanic students’ rights?

A Final Consideration

It might actually be that Tinker sets forth the correct constitutional rule in this case. Schools do have special responsibilities to educate their students and to protect them both against violence and against disruption of their educations. Thus a school might thus have and require the discretion to decide that prevention of disruption, even at the cost of suppressing speech, is acceptable.

That, however, does not address the fact that in parts of California it is utterly unsafe for White ,American students to wear or display our nation’s flag while at school due to the reasonable fear that Hispanic students will physically attack them for doing so. Worse, the only way that the schools can- or is willing protect them is by restricting their freedoms rather than punishing and/or reeducating the violent Hispanics.

Related Reading:

America: A Narrative History (Brief Tenth Edition)  (Vol. One-Volume)
The Day You Begin
The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change
Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?
Vocabulary for the High School Student

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