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Scoville v. Board of Education of Joliet Township High School District 204

April 1, 1970


Swygert, Chief Judge, Castle, Senior Circuit Judge, Kiley, Fairchild, Cummings and Kerner, Circuit Judges, en banc. Castle, Senior Circuit Judge (dissenting).

Author: Kiley

KILEY, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiffs, minors, were expelled from high school after writing, off the school premises, a publication which was distributed in school and which contained, among other things, material critical of school policies and authorities. This civil rights action was brought for declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and damages,*fn1 alleging violation of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as an unconstitutional application of an Illinois statute. The district court dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be grant-A panel of this court, in an opinion (one judge dissenting) issued September 25, 1969, affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing the complaint. Subsequently, this court granted plaintiffs' petition for rehearing en banc. We now reverse the district court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.

The plaintiffs are Raymond Scoville and Arthur Breen, students at Joliet Central High School, one of three high schools administered by the defendant Board of Education. Scoville was editor and publisher, and Breen senior editor, of the publication "Grass High." They wrote the pertinent material. "Grass High" is a publication of fourteen pages containing poetry, essays, movie and record reviews, and a critical editorial. Sixty copies were distributed to faculty and students at a price of fifteen cents per copy.

On January 18, 1968, three days after "Grass High" was sold in the school, the dean advised plaintiffs that they could not take their fall semester examinations. Four days thereafter plaintiffs were suspended for a period of five days. Nine days after that Scoville was removed as editor of the school paper, and both he and Breen were deprived of further participation in school debating activities.

The dean then sent a report to the superintendent of the high schools with a recommendation of expulsion for the remainder of the school year. The superintendent wrote the parents of plaintiffs that he would present the report, together with the recommendation, to the Board of Education at its next meeting. He invited the parents to be present. Scoville's mother wrote a letter to the Board (plaintiffs' Exhibit 2, appended to the complaint) expressing plaintiffs' sorrow for the trouble they had caused, stating that they had learned a lesson, that they were worried and upset about possible interruption in their education and that the parents thought the boys had already been adequately punished. Neither plaintiffs nor their parents attended the Board meeting. The Board expelled plaintiffs from the day classes for the second semester, by virtue of the Board's authority under Ill.Rev.Stat. Ch. 122, Sec. 10-22.6 (1967), upon a determination that they were guilty of "gross disobedience [and] misconduct." The Board permitted them to attend, on a probationary basis, a day class in physics, and night school at Joliet Central. The suit before us followed.

Upon defendants' motion to dismiss, the district court decided that the complaint, on its face, alleged facts which "amounted to an immediate advocacy of, and incitement to, disregard of school administrative procedures," especially because the publication was directed to an immature audience. In other words, the court implicitly applied the clear and present danger test, finding that the distribution constituted a direct and substantial threat to the effective operation of the high school. At no time, either before the Board of Education or in the district court, was the expulsion of the plaintiffs justified on grounds other than the objectionable content of the publication. The Board has not objected to the place, time or manner of distribution. The court found and it is not disputed that plaintiffs' conduct did not cause any commotion or disruption of classes.

No charge was made that the publication was libelous, and the district court felt it unnecessary to consider whether the language in "Grass High" labeled as "inappropriate and indecent" by the Board could be suppressed as obscene.*fn2 The court thought that the interest in maintaining its school system outweighed the private interest of the plaintiffs in writing and publishing "Grass High." The basis of the court's decision was an editorical entitled "My Reply" (a copy of which is appended to this opinion) which -- after criticizing the school's pamphlet, "Bits of Steel," addressed to parents -- urged the students not to accept "in the future," for delivery to parents, any "propaganda" issued by the school, and to destroy it if accepted.


Plaintiffs contend that the expulsion order violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment freedoms. The same cases are cited by plaintiffs and defendants in support of their arguments on this contention. The authoritative decision, pertinent to the important*fn3 issue before us, is Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. 503, 89 S. Ct. 733, 21 L. Ed. 2d 731 (1969).*fn4 Tinker is a high school "arm band" case, but its rule is admittedly dispositive of the case before us.*fn5

The Tinker rule narrows the question before us to whether the writing of "Grass High" and its sale in school to sixty students and faculty members could "reasonably have led [the Board] to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities * * * or intrusion into the school affairs or the lives of others"*fn6 Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. at 514, 89 S. Ct. at 740. (Emphasis added.) We hold that the district court erred in deciding that the complaint "on its face" disclosed a clear and present danger justifying defendants' "forecast" of the harmful consequences referred to in the Tinker rule.

Tinker announces the principles which underlie our holding: High school students are persons entitled to First and Fourteenth Amendment protections. States and school officials have "comprehensive authority" to prescribe and control conduct in the schools through reasonable rules consistent with fundamental constitutional safeguards. Where rules infringe upon freedom of expression, the school officials have the burden of showing justification. See also Burnside v. Byars, 363 F.2d 744 (5th Cir. 1966); Blackwell v. Issaquena Co. Board of Education, 363 F.2d 749 (5th Cir. 1966); Soglin v. Kauffman, 418 F.2d 163 (7th Cir. Oct. 24, 1969); Breen v. Kahl, 419 F.2d 1034 (7th Cir. Dec. 3, 1969); Dickey v. Alabama State Board of Education, 273 F. Supp. 613 (M.D.Ala.1967); Jones v. State Board of Education, 279 F. Supp. 190 (M.D.Tenn.1968). There is no dispute here about the applicable principles or decisional rules.

Plaintiffs' freedom of expression was infringed by the Board's action, and defendants had the burden of showing that the action was taken upon a reasonable forecast of a substantial disruption of school activity. No reasonable inference of such a showing can be drawn from the complaint which merely alleges the facts recited in the beginning of this opinion. The criticism of the defendants' disciplinary policies and the mere publication of that criticism to sixty students and faculty members leaves no room for reasonable inference justifying the Board's action. While recognizing the need of effective discipline*fn7 in operating schools, the law requires that the school rules be related to the state interest in the production of well-trained intellects with constructive critical stances, lest students' imaginations, intellects and wills be unduly stifled or chilled. Schools are increasingly accepting student criticism as a worthwhile influence in school administration.*fn8

Absent an affirmative showing by the defendants, the district court, faced with the motion to dismiss, inferred from the admitted facts in plaintiffs' complaint and the presented exhibits that the Board action was justified. However, the district court had no factual basis for, and made no meaningful application of, the proper rule of balancing the private interests of plaintiffs' free expression against the state's interest in furthering the public school system. Burnside v. Byars, 363 F.2d at 748. No evidence was taken, for example, to show whether the classroom sales were approved by the teachers, as alleged; of the number of students in the school; of the ages of those to whom "Grass High" was sold; of what the impact was on those who bought "Grass High"; or of the range of modern reading material available to or required of the ...

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