In the bedrock student speech case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, the Supreme Court ruled that students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate and that a school cannot prohibit student speech absent a “substantial disruption.” The Supreme Court defined “substantial disruption” as speech that “materially and substantially disrupt[s] the work and discipline of school.” In 2008, the Seventh Circuit adopted a new definition of “substantial disruption” in Nuxoll v. Indian Prairie School District No. 204, a case where a student challenged his school’s prohibition of the t-shirt slogan “Be Happy, Not Gay.” A split-panel Seventh Circuit found that a “substantial disruption” occurs if there is reason to believe that a student’s speech “will lead to a decline in students’ test scores, an upsurge in truancy, or other symptoms of a sick school.” This Note will explore how the majority opinion in Nuxoll will allow school administrators to restrict a wide variety of student speech. This Note will also dispute the Seventh Circuit’s interpretation of Supreme Court precedent in defining “substantial disruption.”
Marcia E. Powers,
Unraveling Tinker: The Seventh Circuit Leaves Student Speech Hanging by a Thread,
Seventh Circuit Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/seventhcircuitreview/vol4/iss1/9