First Amendment
12th Grade First Amendment Inquiry

Are Students Protected by the First Amendment?
Download the Entire Inquiry Here

Staging the Compelling Question
The inquiry opens by having students read a story from the Washington Post about students in Ohio who were expelled after posting their homemade rap videos to their social media pages. The school claimed that the videos represented gang activity, while the students declared they were just for fun. Students should read the article and then assess the actions of the students and the school district officials. Teachers may want to ask students such questions as “Did the rap videos cause a distraction for other students?” and “Does the school have the right to expel students for their activities on social media?” Students should begin to think about what rights they have and should, at this point, be able to connect this circumstance to the First Amendment.
  • Source A: Elahe Izadi, news story describing a group of students suspended for rap videos they created, “Lawsuit: Black Teens Unfairly Expelled from Ohio High School after Making Rap Music Videos,” Washington Post, September 3, 2014. From The Washington Post, © 2014 Washington Post Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission and protected by the Copyright Laws of the United States. The printing, copying, redistribution, or retransmission of this Content without express written permission is prohibited.
Supporting Question 1- What is the difference between the Tinker Standard and Fraser Standard as they relate to students' free speech?
  • Source A: United States Congress, First Amendment to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791 Amendment I
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    Public domain. Available at the National Archives:
  • Source B: Oyez Project, summary of the 1969 court ruling that the First Amendment applies to public schools “Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District” (excerpt), August 10, 2015
  • Source C: American Bar Association, summary of the 1986 court case that held that not all speech was protected in the public school setting, “Bethel School District v. Fraser (478 U.S. 675, 1986) Free Expression for Students” (excerpts), 2005. 
?Supporting Question 2- Does the "no prior restraint" rule apply to students?
  • Source A: Legal Information Institute, definition of the legal term “prior restraint,” Cornell University Law School, no date Prior Restraint
    In First Amendment law, a prior restraint is government action that prohibits speech or other expression before it can take place. There are two common forms of prior restraints. The first is a statute or regulation that requires a speaker to acquire a permit or license before speaking, and the second is a judicial injunction that prohibits certain speech. Both types of prior restraint are strongly disfavored, and, with some exceptions, generally unconstitutional.
    Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School. Used with Permission.
  • Source B: United States Courts, summary of the 1988 Supreme Court decision that a school principal had the right to pull stories thought to be inappropriate from the school newspaper, “Facts and Case Summary —Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier,” no date Public domain. United States Courts website:
  • Source C: David C. Soutter, summary of the 2011 Appeals Court decision that held that a school could not punish a student for a social media profile he created outside of school, “Case Comment: Constitutional Law—Third Circuit Holds First Amendment Protects Off-Camput Internet Speech from School Discipline—Layshock ex rel. Layshock v. Hermitage School District, 650 Fed 205 (3dCir. 2011)” (excerpt), Suffolk Law Review, 2012. 
Supporting Question 3- How does the Supreme Court determine the limits of students' rights?
  • Source A: United States Courts, summary of the 2007 court ruling stating that a school had a right to remove an inappropriate sign, “Facts and Case Summary— Morse v. Frederick,” no date. Public domain. 
  • Source B: Justice Clarence Thomas, concurring opinion in Morse v. Frederick (excerpt), 2007 Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School. Used with Permission.

Supporting Question 4- Can school officials exert control over students' use of social media?
New York State Social Studies Framework Key Idea & Practices 12.G2 CIVIL RIGHTS and CIVIL LIBERTIES: The United States Constitution aims to protect individual freedoms and rights that have been extended to more groups of people over time. These rights and freedoms continue to be debated, extended to additional people, and defined through judicial interpretation. In engaging in issues of civic debate, citizens act with an appreciation of differences and are able to participate in constructive dialogue with those who hold different perspectives.
 Gathering, Using, and Interpreting Evidence      Civic Participation