Reforms in the education system in line with the schools’ role in safeguarding “equal protection” and “due process” have been due to landmark cases Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969). Brown v. Board of Education dealt with the issue of equal protection and racism in educational settings and led to the mandated integration of the public school system.
Black students from four states petitioned to be admitted to white-populated schools and were denied on the basis of “separate but equal” policy. In 1954, the Supreme Court overturned this policy and declared that racial segregation violated equal protection and is detrimental to a child’s education because “a sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn." As a result of this ruling, the existing system of racial segregation in schools became illegal and led to a constitutionally-pronounced integration policy in the public schools (Lagemann & Miller, 1996).
Tinker v. Des Moines School District highlighted the extent to which the school can prohibit free speech and freedom of expression. This case involved 17 public school pupils who were suspended for wearing armbands in protest of the Vietnam War despite the school’s prohibition. The Supreme Court ruled that the suspension violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment because the act was merely “symbolic” and “passive” and did not pose a threat of disrupting school operations.
The ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines School District clarified where the lines will be drawn in case of a conflict between rights of academic institutions on student conduct and behavior and student’s exercise of free speech. Both cases have significant application in the school setting. Brown essentially bars the use of unequal or racist treatment inside the classroom and strengthens the schools’ importance in the application of the equal protection clause in the First Amendment. Tinker stresses the justifiable limits of schools to regulate behavior of students and sets standards for them when dealing with possible conflict with basic freedoms enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment.
Lagemann, E. & L. Miller (eds.) (1996). Brown V. Board of Education: The Challenge for Today's Schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.