Students First
History & Freedom of Speech

History & Freedom of Speech

How did get started? founder, Robin Lee, was a member of Team 2910 Jack-in-the-Bot and was kicked off the team for saying privately that the mentors treat the students like they are “disposable.” The head coach and other adults on the team were determined to keep students from discussing the adult overreach that was rampant on the team. While Robin had kept the team’s secret for years, being kicked off the team created an opportunity to advocate for change. When the coach kicked Robin of Team 2910, the main violation was of Robin’s First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech. Robin first formed a Freedom of Speech Society to address that issue.

However the topic of Robin’s speech, adult over-involvement, resonated strongly with robotics teams all across the United States.

Clearly this problem affected all teams. Teams with over-involved adults deprived students of the opportunity to learn. Teams that emphasized student learning were unfairly competing against mentor-built bots. was formed in January 2024 to mobilize like-minded students and adults in the FIRST community to advocate for change and find solutions. 

StudentsFIRST(c) is a Washington state non-profit corporation, 605 481 190.

Freedom of Speech

It is essential for students to be aware of their right to freedom of speech. Unfortunately, many students believe they have no rights due to their age or being on school property. This is not true. 

The First Amendment protects our rights to freedom of speech and freedom to gather. While the right to vote begins at age 18, you have the right to freedom of speech even when you’re a kid. 

From the ACLU: Do I have First Amendment rights in school? You have the right to speak out, hand out flyers and petitions, and wear expressive clothing in school — as long as you don’t disrupt the functioning of the school or violate school policies that don’t hinge on the message expressed.

More from the ACLU: Do I have First Amendment rights in school?

  • What counts as “disruptive” will vary by context, but a school disagreeing with your position or thinking your speech is controversial or in “bad taste” is not enough to qualify. Courts have upheld students’ rights to wear things like an anti-war armband, an armband opposing the right to get an abortion, and a shirt supporting the LGBTQ community.
  • Schools can have rules that have nothing to do with the message expressed, like dress codes. So, for example, a school can prohibit you from wearing hats — because that rule is not based on what the hats say — but it can’t prohibit you from wearing only pink pussycat hats or pro-NRA hats.
  • Outside of school, you enjoy essentially the same rights to protest and speak out as anyone else. This means you’re likely to be most protected if you organize, protest, and advocate for your views off campus and outside of school hours.
  • You have the right to speak your mind on social media, and your school cannot punish you for content you post off campus and outside of school hours that does not relate to school.

The Supreme Court affirmed students’ First Amendment free speech rights in public schools in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. The court ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” and that school officials do not have absolute authority over students. School staff cannot censor a student’s speech unless it is disrupting the educational process. In his opinion, Justice Fortas explained, “undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression”.