Tinker v. Des Moines School District

393 US 503 (1969)

    Facts : John F. Tinker, 15 years old, and Christopher Eckhardt, 16 years old, attended high schools in Des Moines, Iowa. Mary Beth Tinker, John's sister, was a 13-year-old student in junior high school.

    In December 1965, a group comprised of parents and students held a meeting at the Eckhardt home. They decided to display their objections to the hostilities in Vietnam and their support for a truce by wearing black armbands during the holiday season and by fasting on December 16 and New Year's Eve.

    The principals of the Des Moines schools became aware of the plan to wear armbands. Administrators met and adopted a policy that any student wearing an armband to school would be asked to remove it, and if he refused he would be suspended until he returned without the armband. The students were aware of the regulation that the school authorities adopted.

    On December 16, Mary Beth and Christopher wore black armbands to their schools. John Tinker wore his armband the next day. They were all sent home and suspended from school until they would come back without their armbands. They did not return to school until after the planned period for wearing armbands had expired - that is, until after New Year's Day.

    Issue : Do students have a constitutional right to wear arm bands in school as a form of symbolic speech to protest the Vietnam War.

    Decision: The Supreme Court decided that the First Amendment rights applied because neither "students or teachers shed their rights at the school house gate." Schools must be able to show that students conduct would "materially and substantially interfere" with the operation of the school.

    Significance: The decision led to a twenty year era of permissiveness affecting areas of individual speech, symbolic expression,student literature and student appearance.


Behind The Bench:

Corkill, Phillip. The Law and American Education. Tucson, Arizona. 1991 (Lecture presented at the Flowing Wells School District Administrative Office).

Important Landmark Cases in Educational Law

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