Stoughton Public Schools May Violate First Amendment With Flag Restriction

Stoughton Public Schools Superintendent Tom Raab made a decision at the beginning of the school year to keep all classrooms as “neutral learning environments” by keeping them free of any items such as flags, posters or materials that are unrelated to the curriculum. Naturally, this move has been met with significant public protest.

Without evidence of harm, Stoughton has set itself up as an easy target for First Amendment litigation if this policy is applied to students.

“[S]chool officials’ restriction of [protected] student speech is justified when: (1) actual ‘disturbances or disorders on the school premises in fact occur[]’; (2) ‘the record … demonstrate[s] . . . facts which might reasonably have led school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities’; or (3) the speech invades the rights of others.” Norris v. Cape Elizabeth School District, 969 F.3d 12 (1st Circuit 2020).

A blanket restriction on flags does not appear to have any consideration for actual harm or the rights of others. Stoughton students harmed by this practice have a right to protest – and a right to sue.

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