California Court Broadens Student Speech Protections in Public Schools

By Paul J. Beard
March 20, 2008
For decades California has been a leader in protecting the free speech rights of students in public high schools. Last year, a state court issued a decision expanding California law’s already broad protection of even the most offensive and politically incorrect student speech. In Smith v. Novato Unified School District, the California Court of Appeal decided that two politically charged student articles in a school paper that angered students and parents (one on immigration and the other on “reverse racism”) were not unprotected incitement, as school officials argued, but rather protected speech that could not be restrained or punished. In doing so, the court  adopted a narrow interpretation of “incitement” under California law that confers on student speech perhaps the greatest protection of any state in the country—and much greater protection than the First Amendment provides....