Maryland district disciplines students for wearing pink shirts supporting “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” in violation of uniform policy

Approximately 75 students at Friendly High School who wore pink shirts in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month were given in-school suspensions for violating the school’s uniform policy, reports The Washington Post.  According to the students, they were sent to a classroom and told that they would receive an unexcused absence and zeros for their classes.

The students claim Principal Raynah Adams told them in advance that they could not hold their annual “Pink Out” because it would violate the uniform policy and that there were security concerns.  Nonetheless, on the scheduled “Pink Out” day, a number of students showed up wearing pink shirts, pink sweaters and, in some cases, pink ribbons painted on their cheeks.  When several students arrived at school in clothes that violated the uniform policy, the school had a limited number of shirts to give out so some could attend class. The rest of the students were placed on in-school suspension, said Max Pugh, a spokesman for Prince George’s County school system.

Mr. Pugh said the students would be given excused absences for missing class, which would allow them to make up any missed work.  Pugh added that the principal had ordered pink ribbons so that all students could participate in the breast cancer awareness effort.

Source: The Washington Post, 10/25/13, By Ovetta Wiggins

[Editor's Note: Although breast cancer awareness is not controversial, the method of showing support has proved to be.

In August 2013, Legal Clips summarized a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (PA, NJ, DE, VI), sitting en banc (all active judges participating), in B.H. v. Easton Area Sch. Dist. holding 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. 

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association will be filing an amicus brief in support of Easton Area School District's petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to review the Third Circuit's decision

Also in August 2013, Legal Clips summarized a decision by a federal district court in Indiana in J.A. v. Fort Wayne Cmty. Sch. denying 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. 

And, finally, On October 17, 2013, Huffington Post reported that a high school student in Moore, Oklahoma was suspended for wearing a T-shirt in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month because the shirt displayed the words "Twin Peaks" on the front and "save the scenic views" on the back.  Southmoore High School Principal Roy Smith suspended Jeremy Alexander after he refused to change the shirt.]

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