School Administrators Say, ‘First Amendment, Schmirst Amendment’

Friday, April 14, 2006, 9:57 —by johnomatopoeia
This item was posted in Education, General, San Diego Politics category and has 0 Comments so far.

Remember those high school walkouts a few weeks back? (Who could forget?) And remember how school administrators were banning students from bringing flags of any sort onto school grounds? (Again, who could forget?) Well, some students are still wearing flags and some schools are still disciplining students, even to the point of marring their school records. The ACLU has a problem with this violation of student’s First Amendment rights.

via Cox:

The San Diego and Imperial Counties Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is threatening legal action against Fallbrook Union High School because school officials ordered a 15-year-old student to remove a small American flag she had tucked into her back pocket. A letter from the San Diego ACLU office calls on school officials to stop their practice of forbidding students from wearing flags and other items and to return to compliance with the students’ constitutional rights of free speech. The ACLU letter also asks the school to clear the record of Malia Fontana and to give her a written apology. School District Superintendent Tom Anthony says he doesn’t think any disciplinary action was taken against Fontana, and he doesn’t know the circumstances of the incident because of Spring Break. The girl’s mother, Nikki Fontana, says school officials told her the incident report would remain on Malia’s permanent record. Fontana says her daughter has never had any disciplinary problems and maintains top grades. Malia says she carried the flag as a show of support for another student who was disciplined for wearing a flag as a headband.

I can see this from both sides.

I see the school’s point because there are students out there who would just wear the flag as a way of saying “neener, neener” to the system just because they can hide under the protection of the First Amendment. Although it is their right to wave their middle fingers at ‘The Man’ doesn’t mean that it IS right. In other words, just because you have the right to do it doesn’t mean that it’s right to do. There is such a thing as tact.

Coming from the other side, it’s sad to me that some school administrators automatically assume that students have little or no understanding of what’s at stake with the immigration bill simply because they are young. I think there’s a tendency for them to think that the students are just sheep. I won’t deny that that may sometimes be the case, but putting every student in that category is painting with too wide a brush. And denying a student’s First Amendment rights at all, let alone for something as innocuous as wearing a flag, is wrong.

The beauty of the First Amendment, though, is that neither of these arguments matter. People can say how they feel about anything without fear of reproach. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. The trouble is that many people can’t tell the difference between someone’s basic right and what they do or do not like. In other words, “it’s their right as long as I agree with it”. That’s not what the First Amendment is about. People can choose what they like and don’t like, but they can’t choose what people say. Tact is nice, but it’s not a prerequisite.

In this particular case, I don’t believe that the student harbored any ill-intent. I don’t think she was waving a middle finger around. She’s an honors student with no evidence of ever having been a ‘problem child’, not that that should be a blank check, but it’s probably a safe bet that she did not wear the flag out of malice. It makes the administration of discipline look petty and controlling. So I have to ask them, of all the battles they could choose to fight, is this really the kind of thing they want to make a really big stink about?

The other conundrum is: Would the ACLU have taken this stance were it not an honors student that was involved? Shouldn’t non-honors students, including those who may just be sheep, also deserve the same respect?

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