Score a victory for students in the ongoing T-shirt wars. A high school student at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, Oregon, wore a T-shirt to school that proclaimed:
DONALD J. TRUMP BORDER WALL CONSTRUCTION CO.
THE WALL JUST GOT 10 FEET TALLER
The principal saw this shirt as promoting a hostile learning environment, especially given the fact that 33% of the students were Hispanic. So he ordered the student to go home, or cover up the shirt. Nope. The kid refused, and thus got suspended.
Well, then. It’s Mary Beth Tinker all over again, right? A student wears a T-shirt carrying a political message that is going to be offensive to some people; refuses to comply with the principal’s directive; gets punished; sues.
In May, a federal judge issued a restraining order, allowing the student to wear the pro-Trump shirt for the rest of the school year. Shortly thereafter, the student graduated. Now, the district has settled the case with an apology and $25,000. The district noted that the law in this area is “gray” (no kidding) and that it was only looking out for student safety. But due to the cost and uncertainty of litigation, the district chose to cut its losses with the apology and a check.
How would this have come out if it had gone to court? Hell if I know. But I do know that the district would not prevail unless it could produce evidence of a substantial disruption of school, or at least a reasonable forecast of such a disruption. Proving that some people, even a lot of people, found the message offensive would not be good enough. Mary Beth Tinker’s black armband was offensive to a lot of people in Des Moines, Iowa in 1965. “Offensive” does not cut it. Nor does the intuition of the principal. A “reasonable forecast” of disruption has to be based on facts—not intuition, even when that intuitive hunch is based on considerable experience.
DAWG BONE: POLITICAL MESSAGES ARE PROTECTED, WHETHER IN BLUE OR IN RED.
Tomorrow: What happens when the classroom teacher is named as “the defendant.”