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    Do any states have laws that protect student expression rights?

    Date: 03.01.08 | by Judge Tom.

    The answer is yes – there are a handful of states with laws regarding different forms of student expression rights. As you know, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants you freedom of speech and assembly. States can also provide protection for its citizens by passing their own laws or regulations.

    Below are some of the states with student free expression laws, their statute numbers so you can look them up at the library or online, and the year each law was passed.

    The laws of these states are essentially the same in that they all prohibit expression that is:

    • obscene, libelous, slanderous or defamatory;
    • constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
    • incites students to break the law or creates a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts or violation of school rules;
    • creates a substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.


    Photo by Cavman 92223 (Flickr)

    Arkansas –  [Section 6-18-1201 to 1204] (1995)

    The Arkansas Student Publications Act recognizes “that truth, fairness, accuracy, and responsibility are essential to the practice of journalism.”

    California – [Education Code Section 48907] (1977)

    The California Student Free Expression Law specifies that the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press includes but is not limited to the use of bulletin boards, the distribution of printed materials or petitions, and the wearing of buttons, badges or other insignia. Also official school publications include materials produced by students in “the journalism, newspaper, yearbook, or writing classes…”

    Colorado – [Section 22-1-120] (1990)

    The Colorado Student Free Expression Law specifies that “Expression which is false as to any person who is not a public person” is not protected. It also defines the duties of student editors and the school’s publications advisor.

    Iowa – [Section 280.22] (1989)

    The Iowa Student Free Expression Law specifies that official school publications means material produced by students in the journalism, newspaper, yearbook, or writing classes and distributed to the student body free or for a fee.

    Kansas – [Sec. 72.1504 to 72.1506] (1992)

    The Kansas Student Publications Act states that “Material shall not be suppressed solely because it involves political or controversial subject matter.”

    Massachusetts – [Chapter 71, Section 82] (1988)

    The Massachusetts Student Free Expression Law states that freedom of expression shall include without limitation the rights and responsibilities of students to express their views through speech and symbols, to publish and disseminate their views, and to assemble peaceably on school property for the purpose of expressing their opinions.

    Oregon – (2007) – the Oregon Student Free Expression Law can be found at Section 336.477 (2007).

    The Oregon Student Free Expression Law recognizes that freedom of expression and of the press are fundamental principles of our democratic society. This includes students who have “the right to engage in robust and uninhibited discussion of issues”  Educational institutions in Oregon are “to encourage students to become educated, informed and responsible members of society.”

    In 2012, a bill was introduced in the Vermont legislature regarding student free expression. Connecticut, Kentucky and Washington were considering similar legislation. You can find the pending bills on the web site of each state legislature.

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    2 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Ben
      Fri, 29 Jul 2011 at 05:56

      Can a teacher make a student turn his/her braclet inside out?
      Depending on your Code of Conduct and the rules spelled out in the Sudent Handbook, yes they have the authority to ask you to turn your T-shirt or bracelet inside out. If the message is offensive and causes a disruption at school, the administration can take action. Read this story about the “I (heart) boobies” bracelet at one school.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Rob Melton
      Sat, 10 Nov 2012 at 01:43

      Citation for the Oregon law is:
      Ore. Rev. Stat. sec. 336.477 (2007)
      Thank you very much for the citation, Rob. We added it to this post.

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