Board Policy on Freedom of Speech/Expression

Board Policy 5145.2

San Francisco Unified School District and County Office of Education

Board Policy 5145.2

Freedom of Speech/Expression


This Board Policy applies to the San Francisco Unified School District and the County Office of Education.

The Governing Board believes that free inquiry and exchange of ideas are essential parts of a democratic education. The Board respects students' rights to express ideas and opinions, take stands on issues, and support causes, even when such speech is controversial or unpopular.

(cf. 6142.3 - Civic Education)

(cf. 6144 - Controversial Issues)


On-Campus Expression

Students shall have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press including, but not limited to, the use of bulletin boards; the distribution of printed materials or petitions; the wearing of buttons, badges, and other insignia; and the right of expression in official publications. (Education Code 48907)

Student expression on District or school Internet web sites and online media shall generally be afforded the same protections as in print media.

(cf. 1113 - District and School Web Sites)

(cf. 6163.4 - Student Use of Technology)


Students' freedom of expression shall be limited only as allowed by Education Code 48907, 48950, and other applicable state and federal laws.

Students are prohibited from making any expressions or distributing or posting any materials that are obscene, libelous, or slanderous. Students also are prohibited from making any expressions that so incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises, the violation of school rules, or substantial disruption of the school's orderly operation. (Education Code 48907)

(cf. 5145.7 - Sexual Harassment)

(cf. 5145.9 - Hate-Motivated Behavior)


The use of "fighting words" or epithets is prohibited in those instances where the speech is abusive and insulting, rather than a communication of ideas, and the speech is used in an abusive manner in a situation that presents an actual danger that it will cause a breach of the peace.

School officials shall not engage in prior restraint of material prepared for official school publications except insofar as the content of the material violates the law. (Education Code 48907)

The Superintendent or designee shall not discipline any high school student solely on the basis of speech or other communication that would be constitutionally protected when engaged in outside of school, but may impose discipline for harassment, threats, or intimidation unless constitutionally protected. (Education Code 48950)

(cf. 5137 - Positive School Climate)

(cf. 5144 - Discipline)

(cf. 5144.1 - Suspension and Expulsion/Due Process)

(cf. 5144.2 - Suspension and Expulsion/Due Process: Students with Disabilities)


Off-Campus Expression

A student shall be subject to discipline for off-campus expression, including expression on off-campus Internet web sites, when such expression poses a threat to the safety of other students, staff, or school property, or substantially disrupts the educational program. The Superintendent or designee shall document the impact the expression had or could be expected to have on the school program.

(cf. 5131 - Conduct)


Middle and high school students have the right to participate in protests off campus and will not be prevented from doing so. Students with parent permission to be off campus will receive an excused absence. This provision shall be not be construed to permit staff to solicit, recruit, direct or control students' expression of religious, political or philosophical off-campus expression. When feasible, a site administrator may grant staff permission to attend an off-campus protest with students in a supervisory and non-participatory capacity.

(cf. 4019.25 - Political Activities of Employees) 

(cf. 6145.5 - Student Organizations of Equal Access)


Legal Reference:


48907 Exercise of free expression; rules and regulations

48950 Speech and other communication

51520 Prohibited solicitations on school premises


4071-4074 Equal Access Act


Article 1, Section 2 Freedom of speech and expression


Amendment 1 Freedom of speech and expression


Smith v. Novato Unified School District, (2007) 150 Cal.App.4th 1439

Lavine v. Blaine School District, (2001) 257 F.3d 981

Emmett v. Kirkland School District No. 415, (2000) 92 F.Supp. 2d 1088

J.S. v. Bethlehem Area School District, (2000) 757 A.2d 412 (Pa. Commw. 2000)

Beussink v. Woodland R-IV School District, (1998) 30 F.Supp. 2d 1175

Muller v. Jefferson Lighthouse School, (1996) 98 F.3d 1530

Lovell v. Poway Unified School District, (1996) 90 F.3d 367

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, (1988) 108 S. Ct. 562

Leeb v. DeLong, (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 47

Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, (1986) 478 U.S. 675

Bright v. Los Angeles Unified School District, (1976) 18 Cal. 3d 350

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, (1969) 393 U.S. 503


Management Resources:



California Department of Education:



Please note that compare references, or “cf”, refer to CSBA model policies and do not necessarily indicate that the San Francisco Unified School District has adopted the referenced policy.


Cross References

Second Reading: February 11, 2019

Rules Committee: February 3, 2019

First Reading: December 10, 2019

Discussed at Rules Committee: December 2, 2019

This page was last updated on June 6, 2022