Students, violence, and violent student speech: the preservation of First Amendment rights in a frightening age

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University of Alabama Libraries

This work examines how American federal and state courts address cases of violent student speech in the wake of Columbine and other infamous incidents of school violence. Three general types of violent student speech are studied in the work: non-sponsored curricular speech, noncurricular speech, and threatening speech. After outlining the relevant Supreme Court case law, this study finds that different legal standards should apply to each type of violent student speech, with a new and protective standard needed for non-sponsored curricular speech. Tinker applies to instances of noncurricular speech (assuming that speech is properly subject to the school's authority), and in many instances, the true threat doctrine alone is best suited to address threatening student speech. Generally, this study finds that, in many instances, violent speech is treated as threatening speech -- a position grounded in emotion rather than the Constitution. Furthermore, this study concludes that the Supreme Court must remake both student speech and true threat jurisprudence in order to better address instances of violent student speech. Additionally, courts must be more receptive to student speech claims and less deferential to school decision making in a realm where school officials have no special expertise. Future research should be dedicated to addressing state nuances in the true threat doctrine and addressing the non-Tinker regulation of off-campus student speech.

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Law, Education, Public policy