AZ - A student at a Phoenix high school had an Ibuprofen in her
pocket so the school decided to strip-search her. She had a feeling
that this violated her rights, but she didn't know for sure, so
she let them continue the search.
That's why Mary Beth Tinker wants students to know their rights.
Tinker is touring the country now to advocate for students rights,
especially First Amendment rights.
"You can't stand up for your rights if you don't know your
rights," she said.
Tinker spoke to journalism and government students at Hopi High
Tinker was at the center of a First Amendment case that went
to the U.S. Supreme Court and is now included in many journalism
and government textbooks. In the 1960s, when Tinker was a junior
high student, she wore an armband to school. Her school wanted to
suspend her and punish her. She took the case to court and the court
ruled that she was right and did not allow the school to punish
her. Recently, she returned to the school where they honored her
by naming a locker after her.
case became known as Tinker vs. DesMoines School District. The Tim
Harrower Inside Reporting textbook states the case means that school
administrators must respect students' rights. Moreover, that free
expression, whether in speech or print, must be allowed provided
it doesn't disrupt the school or invade the rights of others.
"Students and teachers do not leave their rights at the school
door," Tinker said.
For example, if a school cancels a class, the students can petition
to have the class reinstated.
Tinker, who is a nurse when she's not touring the country for
students, said the First Amendment also applies to students and
gives them the right to free speech.
"Children are standing up and speaking for a better world,"
Tinker said there is a history of students getting into trouble
for standing up for their rights including cases of segregation
where the Ku Klux Klan made the complainers disappears.
"There's always the chance you can get in trouble, but in our
country there is a tradition of dissent which helps us progress
so we can become a more fair and just country," she said.
Tinker points to America having a history of injustice and inequality.
There was a time when Virginia and several other states didn't allow
interracial marriages. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Virginia
was wrong and that the law was unconstitutional. Tinker said states
have passed many laws that were unconstitutional. She credits the
American Civil Liberties Union with standing up for the Bill of
She points to the Jim Crow laws, which separated races, as also
Frank LoMonte, president of the Student Press Law Center, joined
Tinker for the Hopi High visit. He said students often ask schools
for more strict enforcement of some school rules.
"Schools can give students more leeway for issues such as liberalized
dress codes," he said.
Tinker said the point is that students should have some say
on the rules that impact them.
"The Tinker tour encourages students to speak up on their lives,"
she said. "In a democracy, everyone should have a say including
For example, if students want more grapes in the cafeteria they
can petition for more grapes.
The Tinker Tour began on Constitution Day on Sept. 17 as they
have visited about 80 schools and spoken to about 30,000 students,
teachers and administrators.
"We've had a very positive response. There has been a lot of
enthusiasm for our message," Tinker said.
LoMonte said generalizations couldn't be made about administrators
because several of the administrators responded positively.
Tinker said she was happy to bring her message to Hopi High
School because she was raised in Iowa where they didn't know much
about native culture.
"Native Americans are part of our history. Our tour is about
rights and Native American rights are a large part of that. We wanted
to highlight Native American rights," she said.
Tinker said some native students in Colorado were speaking up
about environmental issues. She praised the Hopi High news video
class for producing a video about sexual abuse on the reservation.
LoMonte said Native American history in the U.S. is a case of
the government overreaching.
"The First Amendment is meant to protect minorities against
the tyranny of the majority," he said.
Aside from using the First Amendment, Tinker said students should
speak out about their rights concerning clean air, clean water,
safe places to live, safe schools, respect in their lives and fair
"As a nurse, I want you to think of all of those because I
want you to be healthy and strong," she said.
LoMonte said students are part of the school and community so
they should have the right to speak out about clean water, women's
rights and other issues.
Tinker added social media has made everybody a publisher so
people are deciding the rights of social media.
LoMonte said since social media has made everybody a publisher
that everybody needs to know his or her legal rights.
Tinker said those with concerns can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
or the Student Press Law Center at email@example.com or contact the
According to LoMonte, SPLC offers a free service to answer student
questions and attempts to solve the problems. He noted one case
where a college student was kicked out because she had something
unprofessional on her Facebook.
"We're happy to take calls. Mostly to educate you so you can
educate your school," he said. "If you can say 'this is wrong; let
me tell you why. well, that's empowerment."
LoMonte emphasized that those standing up don't have to be superheroes.
"They can be 13 year old girls," he said. "It just takes people