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Civil Rights and Schools: Tinker v. Des Moines  

Kathryn Schumaker

The 1969 Supreme Court ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines established that students in public elementary and secondary schools do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Before Tinker, students often faced punishment from school officials for their role in protests both on and off campus. A rise in civil rights protests and the role of young people in the social movements of the 1960s led to frequent conflicts between students and school administrators. Many black students were especially vocal in contesting racial discrimination at school in the two decades following the 1954Brown v. Board of Education decision. But before Tinker, students in public elementary and secondary schools were not considered to have any constitutional rights, including the right to free expression. Some of these students brought lawsuits in response to punishments they believed unfairly disciplined them for participating in legitimate protests. The political activism of young people and developments in First Amendment law eventually brought the Constitution into the public school classroom, leading to Tinker and other cases that established students’ rights.