Pubdate: Sun, 30 Sep 2007
Source: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Copyright: 2007 The Daily Herald Company
Author: Jordy McNamara, News Editor, The Statesman, Stevenson High School
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


Offensive or just free speech? For decades, high school students have
challenged the boundaries of free speech in school, often by wearing
material that adults find inappropriate. Here, a student reporter
investigates whether anyone's rights were really violated by the
banning of controversial T-shirts.

Last Friday morning as students entered school, a group of seniors
were pulled aside, all with one thing noticeably in common: their shirts.

These bright green T-shirts, with the words ".08" on the front and
"Legally gone" on the back, have been the topic of conversation
amongst the senior class in the past week.

"It is very unsettling for the adults at this school," Principal Janet
Gonzalez said. "The contents of this shirt were definitely not
acceptable for school, and we cannot advocate any substance abuse."

Despite teacher and administrator disapproval, Lizz McCrindle, class
of 2008, who headed the project to have the shirts made, said she has
never before received such support from her peers.

"I had the whole commons watching me as they walked me to (Assistant
Principal Pat Ihmels") office," McCrindle said.

This wasn't the first time McCrindle had spoken with Ihmels about the

"Last Wednesday, she brought me in and we looked at the shirt one by
one and they told me they were banned," McCrindle said.

During this meeting, McCrindle said that she was asked to inform
everyone who had bought a shirt that the shirts had been banned from

"I sent out a message on Facebook to everyone who bought one telling
them what happened, but it only made them want to wear it more," she

When the seniors arrived at school wearing the T-shirts, they were
asked to either change shirts or turn them inside out, and McCrindle
was escorted to Ihmel's office.

With the banning of this shirt, among other items she and her friends
designed, McCrindle believes her First Amendment rights have been violated.

"A lot of people feel that their rights were taken away," said
McCrindle, who specifically cited freedom of expression and freedom of

In the past, the courts have tended to side with schools in cases like

This past June, the Supreme Court again ruled in favor of the school
in Morse v. Frederick, often called the "Bong Hits for Jesus" case.

In 2002 in Juneau, Alaska, an 18-year-old held up a sign reading "Bong
Hits 4 Jesus" at a torch parade for the Olympics.

He was suspended from his high school, leading him to believe his
rights had been violated.

The case reached the Supreme Court, and the justices ruled that if an
expression related to or promoted drug abuse, the school had the right
to censor it.

It also said that if the expression were intended for political or
social reasons, the school could not ban the item.

"Courts have given school officials a fair share of leeway in setting
up dress codes," Mike Hiestand, lawyer and legal consultant for the
Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., said in a phone interview.
"But they have to stand back when something is worn to convey a
certain message."

The school guidebook also includes a section banning clothing
referencing alcohol or drugs.

This, and past court rulings cause Jim Tidwell, attorney and
Journalism Department Chair at Eastern Illinois University, to believe
the students rights have not been violated.

"I really don't think their rights were violated," Tidwell said. "This
is a question of freedom of speech, and in the past, the courts have
made exceptions for certain categories, and I think a T-shirt like
this would fall into that exception."

Both Principal Janet Gonzalez and Ihmels agreed that the school has to
send a message about safety in this case.

"It's our job to draw the line and to do what's best for all kids,"
Gonzalez said. "That shirt might not be unsafe today, but it's sending
a message for the future." 
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