Do Public School Students Have Free Speech Rights under the First Amendment?If you're a blogger, you can help support EFF's work through the Bloggers' Rights fundraising campaign. Link
Absolutely. Both minors and adults have First Amendment rights, and according to the Supreme Court, public school students don't "shed their constitutional right to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." See Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969). In the Tinker case, the Court said that public high school students had a First Amendment right to wear black armbands to class in symbolic protest of the Vietnam War. "Students in school as well as out of school are 'persons' under our Constitution," the Court said, and "they are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect..."
But I'm a Private School Student–What About Me?
You also have First Amendment rights, but those rights only protect you from government censorship, not private censorship. As a general matter, you will receive no protection from censorship or punishment by a private school or college. See e.g. Ubriaco v. Albertus Magnus High School, No. 99 Civ. 11135 (JSM) (S.D.N.Y. July 21, 2000) (dismissing claim contesting private school expulsion for content on personal web site). However, as discussed below, some states provide private high school and college students with additional speech protections that go above and beyond the First Amendment. Furthermore, if your private school has an applicable written policy, the school must follow that policy.
Also keep in mind that even though your private school may have the right to enforce a stupid rule, that doesn't make it any less stupid. So, if your private school is going overboard in trying to squelch online speech, contact EFF. Depending on the facts, we may be able to help you publicize the problem and hopefully convince your school to be more reasonable.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.