Connecticut district adopts anti-profanity policy for students

The New Britain Herald reports that New Britain Superintendent of Schools Kelt L. Cooper has announced a new anti-profanity policy for the school district that calls for students to be suspended from school for 5-10 days.  “We need to deal with the chronic absenteeism and kids in your face,” Cooper said.  “I seem to think that some point along the line people gave up here.  But enough is enough.”

Cooper was interrupted numerous times by applause by teachers and school staff.  “Today, we have a new motto,” Cooper said.  “Don’t talk smack and don’t show crack [kids with pants half down].”  Students that curse, use abusive language or disrespect teachers and staff will be sent to the principal’s office — and expect to get a suspension.

According to Cooper, there is not a set list of words that students can’t use, but principals will decide what the context of the language was and if it reaches a level of suspension.  He also pointed out that it is up to the principal’s discretion on whether to suspend the student five days, 10 days or somewhere in between.  Cooper noted that in the past, there were not mandatory suspensions for students who used profanity against staff.

In addition to addressing verbal forms of disrepect, the policy states that students who wear their pants halfway down also will be subject to 5- to 10-day suspensions, beginning with their second offense.  “The aggressive in-your-face words like F-you and the B-word, none of that will be tolerated,” Cooper said.

“People know right from wrong and what vulgarity is,” said Paul Salina, chief operations officer for the school district.  Salina added the policy is aimed solely at students who show disrespect to teachers and staff.  It will take effect the first day of school.  “We are doing what worked well in the 1950s and 1960s,” Salina said.  “You show up and go to school and you be a good citizen.  With the right to an education is the responsibility to be a good student.”

As a symbolic effort, more than 100 teachers and staff joined Cooper outside the school following the announcement for a picture with bars of soap in their hands.  Sue Truglio, teachers union president, said: “Children should be accountable for their actions, both academically and socially.  Teachers should not accept anything other than respect.”

Source: New Britian Herald, 8/26/13, By Robert Storace

[Editor's Note: Student speech that is obscene, lewd, vulgar or plainly offensive is not entitled to First Amendment protection. See Bethel Sch. Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).  Student speech that materially and substantially inferes with school operations or infringes on the rights of others is also not entitled to First Amendment protection.  See Tinker v. Des Moines Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969).

Recently a federal appellate court and a federal district court disagreed as to whether the term "boobies" runs afoul of the Fraser standard.  In August 2013, Legal Clips summarized a  U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit en banc decision in B.H. v. Easton Area Sch. Dist. holding in a 9-5 split that a Pennsylvania school district’s ban on displays of a cancer awareness bracelet inscribed with the caption “I ♥ boobies” violated students’ First Amendment free speech rights.  The Third Circuit’s majority concluded that the ban could not be justified under either the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), substantial disruption standard or the Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986), vulgar, lewd, profane, or plainly offensive speech standard.

Also in August 2013, Legal Clips summarized a decision by a federal district court in Indiana in J.A. v. Fort Wayne Cmty. Sch. that denied a student’s motion for a declaratory judgement and permanent injunction allowing her to wear a cancer awareness bracelet bearing the caption “I ♥ Boobies” at school, and entered judgement for the school district.  The court concluded that the school district’s ban on the bracelets was justified under the standard articulated in Bethel Sch. Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).  The court held that the school district “made an objectively reasonable decision in determining that the bracelet was lewd, vulgar, obscene or plainly offensive,” and therefore its ban was constitutional.]

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