Liberty High bans taped-mouth protest

When is a silent protest too “distracting” for school? asks Greg at Rhymes With Right.

At the ironically named Liberty High in Virginia, administrators told students they couldn’t tape their mouths shut to protest abortion because it was a distraction.

In Tinker v. Des Moines, the U.S. Supreme Court said students had a First Amendment right to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. Greg asks:

Now tell me, how does tape over the mouth in any way rise to the standard set in this case — “substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others” — in light of the fact that the tape would be in no way more disruptive than the black armbands in Tinker?

This seems like a fairly clear violation of Tinker. It’s not uncommon for student protesters to tape their mouths. On the annual Day of Silence to protest harassment of gays, students often duct-tape their mouths.

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  1. Apparently protests for PC causes are not considered to be distractions. How much pressure do nonparticipants endure? A scene from Seinfeld comes to mind:

    Walker #1: Hey where’s your ribbon?

    Kramer: Oh, I don’t wear the ribbon.

    Walker #2: You don’t wear the ribbon? Aren’t you against AIDS?

    Kramer: Yeah, I’m against AIDS. I mean, I’m walking, aren’t I? I just don’t wear the ribbon.

    What are the benefits of symbolic protests? How does tape end harassment of gays, abortion, etc.? Wouldn’t speaking out be more effective?

  2. I can’t be the only teacher/parent who wishes that *more* students would duct-tape their mouths shut 🙂

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    It all depends, see.

  4. My issue here is even more fundamental — how can one argue that the tape is disruptive while the refusal to speak in a classroom setting is not? It seems to me that the failure to participate in the activities of the classroom is far more disruptive of the educational setting and mission than the tape could ever be, especially in light of the Tinker holding that the passive wearing of a black armband is not disruptive and is constitutionally protected.

  5. If I were teaching in a classroom that had several students wearing tape over their mouths, I could easily just go about my business as usual, as long as the students weren’t making a big deal out of it. (i.e., pretending like they *weren’t* wearing tape over their mouths) Then again, students making a big deal out of *anything* is disruptive to the classroom.

  6. I wonder how they came up with the idea of taping their mouths shut to protest abortion? If anything it seems ironic, but I guess taping their knees together would have been too obvious.

  7. On The Day of Silence, I just plan for an in-class essay. No disruption at all. The tape seems a little melodramatic/masochistic to me, though. Our kids don’t do that.

  8. I’d say that anything that impedes students’ expected behavior in class is a disruption to normal school discipline. Wearing a simple black armband does not cause a disruption any more than wearing a black t-shirt. On the other hand, refusing to answer a question and participate in class due to duct tape or not is insubordination.
    Unfortunately the school I work in encourages student participation in silly and frivolous activities and fails to realize the harm it does to student achievement. Not a week goes by that my classes aren’t interrupted by these idiotic attempts to promote social awareness.

  9. Tape over one’s mouth is no more disruptive than bringing in a cluster of helium-balloons or passing out cupcakes on one’s birthday. Though I’m pro-choice, I think I would welcome any evidence that kids are thinking about broader social issues.

  10. Ben F-
    I don’t let those in either. They are all disruptive.