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Patch's Poll: Should Schools Police Kids' T-Shirt Slogans?

The ACLU recently informed a Connecticut school that a student was within his rights to wear an anti-gay T-shirt during a day raising awareness of gay and lesbian bullying and harassment.

A school in Wolcott violated a student’s right to free expression when school officials asked him to remove a shirt that contained an anti-gay message, according to a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union this week.

Seth Groody, a Wolcott High School junior, wore a T-shirt on April 20 that depicted a rainbow on the front — a well-known symbol of gay rights — with a slash over it. On the back of the shirt was a pair of male and female stick figures seen holding hands, as well as the phrase  “Excessive Speech Day," the ACLU said.

The ACLU said Groody wore the shirt on a designated Day of Silence, which is part of a national movement to raise awareness of bullying and harassment of gays and lesbians. The school’s decision to order Groody remove the shirt — which he did under protest — was a violation of his First Amendment rights, citing a recent similar case, the ACLU said.

The organization, which notified the school district via a letter, said the shirt was intended to express his dislike for gay marriage and his opposition to the designated Day of Silence. According to the Hartford Courant, the ACLU said it doesn't agree with Groody's message but said the student had a right to wear that shirt.

“It was a statement of opinion that school officials and other students might disagree with but that would not substantially interfere with the operation of the school or invade anyone's rights,” the ACLU said.

With so many issues coming up on a yearly basis about school apparel, should schools police the slogans on T-shirts that kids wear? Take our poll and add your thoughts in our comment section.

Bill June 08, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Well let's look at that. The problem with restricting offensive speech, or t-shirts probably boils down to how you define offensive. We very often define offensive "in the eye of the beholder" though there are some generally accepted ideas of what is offensive. Now there are some who claim they are offended by overt promotion of the gay lifestyle, or may claim they are offended by advertisements promoting gay pride. If we restrict an anti gay t-shirt as offensive, do we need to restrict posters, say, that promote the opposing point of view? True it was in a school and minors do have severely restricted rights, but in this case, it is an arm of the government (the school) restricting freedom of speech which is precisely what the 1st ammendment is written to prevent.
Jerry O'Connor June 08, 2012 at 03:53 PM
In the Woolcot school in question the administration was condoning/encouraging students to attend class with duct tape over their mouths as a symbol of solidarity with the gay rights movement (Day of Silence). That seems much more disruptive of the educational mission of the school than the tee shirt the school bosses found offensive. In general, I agree that any clothing, language or behavior by a student that disrupts the educational process should be prohibited. But to allow one political point of view to be expressed and not another (a recent poll confirmed that the nation is divided about 50 -50 over the gay marriage issue) is intellectual bullying of the most dangerous kind.
Wyatt June 08, 2012 at 05:22 PM
I'm surprised by the number of responses for the "No" option in the poll, that schools should not police t-shirt slogans. I hope that this number is so high because people did not clearly think through the repurcussions of that choice. I agree with the other commentators that a school should ban all disruptive speech from the facility so as to not disturb the educational process. Giving students cart blanche speech rights opens up a Pandora's Box that would seriously infringe upon a school's decorum and atmosphere.
Marcie June 08, 2012 at 07:07 PM
They are minors in a public school system. Why are we even questioning this?
M.A. Santos June 08, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Should be left to the parents to monitor/police what their child wears. However, as we know not all parents care about what they wear, and in today's in-your-face display of believes, seems uniforms is the way to go. The school must share responsibility for putting their students through this. Having such days for expressing solidarity is in itself a huge distraction to the education process. Schools should stay out of such polarizing social issues.
Sarah Summers June 08, 2012 at 07:25 PM
The First Amendment does not protect all forms of speech in schools. Foul or abusive language in a school setting is prohibited, There is enough bullying in school, let alone the real world, and it needs to stop. These are our children, and we need to protect them. How many children have to commit suicide before we learn to teach acceptance and love? As parents we should be ashamed of a shirt like this.
Sarah Summers June 08, 2012 at 07:32 PM
This isn't a political issue, its a human rights issue. Its not a matter of being republican or democrat, its a matter of teaching our children right from wrong- meaning to love one another and treat each other with kindness and acceptance. In addition, teaching them that bullying anyone is not tolerated on any level.
Mark June 08, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Yes the administration should have the right to decide what is allowed. I think most of us can agree "Abercrombie" is not offensive. Anti-gay slogans are offensive. AND Pro-Gay slogans are offensive to many as well. So how about NO SLOGANS AT ALL in school? No "Save a Boob" no "Save the Whales" No "Rainbows are for lovers" etc. It is distracting, even if only briefly some could lead to altercations. We were all kids ourselves once and I remember almost the same conversation only it was about earrings in a boys ear. If it won't help you to learn or is not a part of the typical school day it doesn't need to be in a school setting.
Lauren S June 08, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Leave free speech to adults. Kids in schools should have to follow strict dress code guidelines. Ideally the parents would be monitoring what the kids wear, but the school should have the right to step in if the need arises. I went to a private high school. There was no free speech for our dress code. If it offended anyone official at the school your parents had to drop off new clothes or pick you up. No grey area. No appeals. If you couldn't dress in a polite approproate way you couldn't be there. It was pretty simple. And I certainly never felt like my rights had been violated. On the contrary - it sent a nice message of how to behave in a polite way in public. Something that is often lacking in todays young people. Until children are full adults and capable of more rational behavior and decision making skills they shouldn't have a say. They have plenty of time outside of school hours to exercise their right to free speech.
Mark June 08, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Does free speech even apply to minors? I'm not certain it does. As for uniforms in schools....not such a great idea as the uniforms are hugely marked up when those rules are put in place. I still think that we should not allow slogans on clothing in schools unless it is school related. It would eliminate the whole problem and is a legal remedy that cannot be fought. But until that day a student can wear their Gay pride shirt and others may wear their Anti-gay pride shirts.
Molly June 08, 2012 at 11:39 PM
this shirt is a silent form of bullying!!! especially worn on that day, with that slogan on the back. very oppressive.
jane June 09, 2012 at 02:29 AM
High schoolers are able to think and talk- Here's an idea, instead of banning anything- sit them down for a talk- let the kid express why he feels the way he does- let the silence day observers express what they feel- teach people to accept we have differences but can live with dignity and respect- Forcing anyone not to wear something- doesn't change the tension- it in fact may make things more hostile- I say teach the youth to communicate and that includes listening to sides we don't agree with. It was a missed learning opportunity by the adults-
Eric June 09, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Wearing a shirt of that nature to school is tasteless, there is no explaining the way around that. However, if political correctness is going to dictate proper dress in the school system, standard issue uniforms might become popular....more sooner, than later
Cynara Stites June 10, 2012 at 01:51 AM
The U. S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District case that freedom of speech protected the rights of two students to wear anti-war tee shirts to school during the Vietnam War. The Court ruled that school administrators "must be able to show that [their] action [prohibiting the tee shirts] was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint," allowing schools to forbid conduct that would "materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school." This means that schools may not censor speech just because it's unpopular speech. As to the rights of minors in school, the Court said that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."
Southington Phoenix June 10, 2012 at 02:25 AM
The administration has every right to take disciplinary action regarding this matter. Schools are places where stupidity and bigotry should be removed from students minds and replaced with knowledge and enlightenment. If a teacher were wear the same shirt they should be dismissed no questions asked.
Southington Phoenix June 10, 2012 at 02:31 AM
The Supreme Court, really? These are the same group of geniuses the ruled in favor of "Citizens United" effectively selling our democracy to the highest bidder.
Catherine & Dennis June 10, 2012 at 01:51 PM
I cannot understand why this is even a discussion and how it even happens. I think everyone knows that you couldnt wear a shirt that is anti (name your race) shirt right? It seems that overweight and gay people seem to be fair game?? How can a parent buy such a shirt never mind let the kid wear it out? Common sense and basic manners are definitely a thing of the past
Ben Rodriguez June 10, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Like all things in life, there should be a balance. Yes public schools should have a degree of freedom but they also have the responsibility to draw the line when it is discriminatory or very disruptive.
Adam June 10, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Ms. Yost: The schools should not be a forum for political speech. Once the school opened the door to political speech by picking sides in the debate concerning gay marriage (yes, this is unsaid elephant in the room), it has no right to discrimination based on content. It only has the right to be content neutral, i.e whether the message objectively creates a disturbance in the educational process. You are defending the use of a one-way ratchet to a particular political view and using the school system to advance it.
J. Lippi June 10, 2012 at 07:43 PM
I agree with Jane.
meowkats4 June 10, 2012 at 10:44 PM
I agree totally with Jane on this!!!
Ann S June 11, 2012 at 10:43 AM
I find boys kissing boys and girls kissing girls in public offensive -- does that count?
Ann S June 11, 2012 at 10:48 AM
But wearing tape over your mouth is not bullying (to the straight community) -- gays like to think of it as a sign of solidarity. Seems rather prejudicial. How is it that a minority group (gays) want things look at one way and for themselves and another way for the majority (straights). Isn't that Bi-Constitutionality? {Oops, that's another fringe group altogether]
James July 26, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Here we go, Free Speech. You can't yell fire (when there is none) in a theater today.You can't insight riot either. So there are already reasonable limitations set by laws and rules. This should also apply to slogans on tee-shirts, especially in schools or other government run facilities. The trick is to craft understandable, common sense laws and rules and then apply them consistently and fairly to all. No personal bias, political agendas or flavor of the month political correctness, just good old commons sense. Finally, parents have to take responsibility for their children as well. Too many times that does not occur today.

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