The Lynn (Mass.) Daily Item reports:
A Lynn English High School student reprimanded for wearing a t-shirt which read “All the cool girls are lesbians,” set off a debate during Thursday’s School Committee meeting on the school dress code and how it is enforced….
Kennedy told committee members Thursday that she received a letter from a student who was asked by one of the vice principals to cover her t-shirt and never wear it again….
In the letter, the student said she was sitting in the cafeteria at lunch when a teacher told her to show Vice Principal Joseph O’Hagan her shirt. O’Hagan, she wrote, agreed with the teacher that the shirt was inappropriate. When she asked why, the student said she was told, “Because it’s political and offensive to some people.” …
English Principal Thomas Strangie … said a student can be made to cover up a shirt that is deemed disruptive, “and that (shirt) could have been disruptive. It was nothing against her.”
Of course, at this point this is just an allegation by the girl; but if it’s accurate, then the school’s actions violate the First Amendment, unless there’s some showing that the T-shirt had materially disrupted class, led to fights, or posed a demonstrable risk of doing either. The mere possibility that the T-shirt might be disruptive, absent some real evidence that disruption was likely, is not sufficient to justify restricting it. Of course, I take the same view as to anti-homosexuality T-shirts. (Note that the case I condemn in the post I just linked to, a case that did justify suppression of anti-homosexuality T-shirts even in the absence of a showing of actual or likely disruption, was vacated and is therefore no longer precedent.) Thanks to Thomas Riebs for the pointer.
UPDATE: As commenter David Chesler notes, the principal’s action likewise likely violates Massachusetts student speech law: “The right of students to freedom of expression in the public schools of the commonwealth shall not be abridged, provided that such right shall not cause any disruption or disorder within the school.” See also Pyle v. School Comm. of South Hadley (Mass. 1996) (concluding that “The clear and unambiguous language protects the right of the students limited only by the requirement that any expression be nondisruptive within the school,” that the statute thus codifies the Tinker test, and that the statute rejects any exception for vulgarities set forth in Bethel Sch. Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser (1986)).