The Paper Wars: First Amendment Challenges to School Material Distribution Policies
Western New England University School of Law
December 14, 2006
Fourth Commonwealth Education Law Conference: Critical Issues In Education Law and Policy, p. 103, 2006
Public schools are faced with an array of requests seeking permission to distribute material on school property. These requests may come from students, teachers or outside organizations. To respond to these requests, some school districts have adopted written policies to guide their determinations while others lack formal policies and respond on an ad hoc basis. Whether based on formal or informal policies, in deciding whether to permit distribution school officials typically take into account a variety of factors including the content of the material, the identity of the individual or group seeking permission and the time, place or manner of the requested distribution. This decision making is at its most vulnerable when it treats similarly situated groups differently and/or discriminates based on the viewpoint of the material at issue. When crafting a distribution policy, schools cannot freely pick and choose material to distribute. They must weigh their interest in being good citizens of the community by providing community groups with the opportunity to distribute literature in the public schools against the possibility that groups with messages the school would rather exclude will also seek to use those opportunities. Distribution policies require a careful weighing of competing policy interests as well as the crafting of a distribution policy that will pass constitutional muster.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 7
Keywords: first amendment, public schools, distribution of materials, constitutional law, education law
Date posted: December 15, 2011 ; Last revised: December 28, 2011