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by Abigail Van Buren

Free Speech for Students Doesn't End at School Door

DEAR ABBY: In a recent column, a student complained that a teacher forbade the children to discuss "Dear Abby" because it was considered adult material, inappropriate for youngsters. You suggested the students ask the principal what the school's policy is about discussing items they've read in the newspaper.

While they are at it, the students should also ask what the school's policy is regarding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Is this a school or a penitentiary? According to the student, this teacher also won't let the kids talk in private. Isn't that teacher disregarding freedom of speech? It also doesn't sound as though there is much freedom of assembly at recess while this teacher is in the guard tower.

From where I sit, the teacher should be applauding these kids for reading the newspaper. -- PRESTON NEAL JONES, HOLLYWOOD, CALIF.

DEAR PRESTON: I couldn't agree more. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: The letter from students who were reprimanded by a teacher for discussing your column at recess infuriated me. I am a senior in high school, and during my 12 years in the school system, I have seen and experienced plenty of censorship. I have seen petitions ruthlessly squelched, and I know some schools ban certain books. However, the incident described in that letter takes the cake. That a teacher should censor a private discussion among friends (which she had no business listening to, I might add) is outrageous, disgusting and un-American.

The First Amendment, which grants Americans the freedom of speech and assembly (among other things), applies to everyone -- even students. The Supreme Court upheld this principle in 1969, in the case of Tinker vs. Des Moines, when it stated: "It can hardly be argued that either students or teacher shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate." The court ruled that students have the right to express unpopular opinions as long as they are not being disruptive. Those students were not even expressing an unpopular opinion. They were practicing pure free speech -- private speech among individuals -- which happens to be the most protected form of speech under the Constitution. -- CLAIRE BUSHEY, WILMINGTON, DEL.

DEAR CLAIRE: You are absolutely correct. But I thought the teacher would accept it more readily if he or she heard it from the school principal, rather than the students. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Regarding the letter about the teacher who thinks that your column is only for adults: As kids we attended a Lutheran Bible study camp here in Colorado. I don't remember much about the camp -- it's been so long ago -- but one memory I do have is that we had a group chat about your column. It was led by the principal of our school.

He would read a question and then ask us to pretend that we were Abby and give our answers. I felt pretty good when I nailed your response to a T. As an adult now, I can hardly see where your column would be inappropriate for a child. Thank you for many enjoyable years of columns. -- NATALIE MENTEN, GOLDEN, COLO.

DEAR NATALIE: Thank you. Your letter made my day.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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