High school prank sparks 'freedom of speech' debate - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

High school prank sparks 'freedom of speech' debate

The bumpers sticker pictured here is being confiscated by school officials. (Source: KLTV) The bumpers sticker pictured here is being confiscated by school officials. (Source: KLTV)
GLADEWATER, TX (KLTV) - Some East Texas parents and students are riled up after an April Fools prank landed two brothers in alternative school.

Since the boys have been punished, their classmates have taken up for them by putting special bumper stickers on their folders, backpacks and vehicles. The stickers say "Free the Frakes" and have a include a photo of Michael and Samuel Frake. Now, students say they're getting in trouble for having the stickers on campus and that their free speech is being violated.

"The kids came up with this slogan Free the Frakes," explains the boys' father, James Frake.

The slogan is causing a stir at Gladewater Independent School District, and it all started when the boys dumped a grocery bag full of shredded paper on their classmates.

"We went up the stairs and as the bell rang we dumped it over the cafeteria. There were some hoots and hollers and people laughed and clapped and then we went to class," explains Samuel Frake. The boys say they were wearing masks when they dumped the confetti. They add that they immediately 'fessed up when they were confronted about the prank and offered to help clean up the mess.

"We were like,  'Ahh we'll get some detention for it or maybe in-school suspension, but we never expected..." says Michael Frake.

The boys say they were given 40 days of AEP (alternative education program), where they must attend classes at a disciplinary Gilmer campus. The Frakes say the punishment is too harsh and their classmates agree.

"The kids came up with the slogans and are attempting to pass [the stickers] out at school," says James Frake.

Frake says his sons do not have disciplinary records. He says one is in National Junior Honor Society and the other is ranked third in his class.

"[The school punished the boys] without any consideration for their intent and without any consideration for their disciplinary history," says Frake.

James Frake says the bumper stickers are being confiscated, students are getting in trouble for passing them out and he thinks that's wrong.

"Our right to protest and our right to free speech is kinda getting hindered," he says.

So where does the law stand on free speech in public school? One United States Supreme Court ruling, Morse v. Frederick, says the students' free speech can be regulated if:
  • it causes disruption or a substantial threat of disruption
  • it is offensive to community standards
  • the speech is contrary to the basic educational mission
In an email, the school's attorney told James Frake that the school has adopted specific policies pertaining to the distribution of  non-school literature, which includes the bumper stickers. The attorney adds in the email, that the stickers are a violation of the district's dress code.

The Frakes say they aren't giving up.

"We want a forum; the community wants it and we ask that the school district will cooperate with us and give us an opportunity to express our concerns," says James Frake.

Friday we called and visited the Gladewater administration building to see if they'd talk about this. We were told the superintendent was not available and no one else can comment on behalf of the district.

James Frake says Friday afternoon he was issued a criminal trespass warning after the school called the police on him. Frake says he was at the high school to turn in some of this boys' homework and to speak to the principal about their discipline but was ordered off of campus.

Copyright 2014 KLTV. All rights reserved.
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