Danielle Gouch
Stacy Lynch
Brandon Beussink v. Woodland R-IV School District
United States District Court
Argued October 8, 1998Decided December 28, 1998

Background:

Brandon Beussink, claimed that the Woodland R-IV School District violated his rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Beussink was suspended from school for ten days after school officials were made aware of his homepage in which crude and vulgar language was used to criticize Woodland High School and some of the staff members. The suspension caused Beussink to fail all of his classes for the semester due to a school policy that deducts one letter grade for each unexcused absence over ten. No evidence was shown that Beussink used school facilities or school resources to create his homepage. It was created at home on Beussink's own computer using a program which he found on the Internet.

Decision:

The preliminary injunction was granted to Beussink. The United States Supreme Court has made it clear that students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the school gates. The school was not able to enforce the policy that caused Beussink to fail his classes. A student’s right to free speech is not without limitation. Limitation on student speech is permissible only if it “materially and substantially interferes with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operations of the school.” Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), set the precedent for this case. The school could not lawfully make Beussink remove his homepage or punish him for its content because it did not interfere with the operations of the school.

Impact on Education:

Being offended by or disagreeing with a student's opinion posted on a homepage or any other public forum is not a significant reason to punish the student. Teachers and administrators have to remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion and although students are, for the most part, children they too have rights that are protected by the Constitution of the United States. When situations happen that are outside the realm of the school, it is sometimes difficult to determine if it is punishable through school discipline. With so many expanding forums for people to express their thoughts and opinions anonymously or publicly, students have much more opportunity to express their Freedom of Speech, no matter how offensive, unless, as stated above, it “materially and substantially interferes with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operations of the school.” Schools are limited on what is considered punishable when it comes to students publicly expressing their thoughts.

Quiz Question:

When can a school limit the First Amendment rights of a student?
a) Never.
b) When it materially and substantially interferes with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operations of the school.
c) When the content is offensive to the school or members of its staff.
d) None of the above.