Yesterday, I received a news release from the Indiana ACLU announcing the organization’s representation of a middle-school student. As the release recounted the facts of the case,
The minor child, “L.G.,” is a student at Roosevelt Middle School, which is part of the Twin Lakes School Corporation in Monticello, Ind. In early January, school officials instructed the student to turn inside-out a silicone bracelet that contains the message “I© (heart) BOOBIES” as well as the ribbon symbol for breast cancer awareness, and at that time informed the student he could be expelled if he continued to wear the bracelet to school.
The student wore the “I © (heart) BOOBIES” bracelet to assist with breaking down the barriers that make it difficult for young people to talk about breast cancer. The bracelets help support the work of the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund. Carol Baldwin is the mother of the Baldwin brothers, generally known as Hollywood actors and activists. The bracelets are popular among students at Roosevelt Middle School, and have not disrupted the educational environment.
“Decades ago the Supreme Court stressed that students do not shed their First Amendment rights when they enter school buildings,” said Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, who is representing L.G.
“The bracelet did not disrupt the educational environment, and the speech here, designed to assist in the fight against breast cancer, is not profane, indecent, lewd, vulgar, or offensive to school purposes, and is therefore protected speech under the First Amendment,” added Falk.
I have two reactions to the school’s position–both negative.
First, why do public school officials constantly fixate on aspects of student behavior that are either irrelevant to their education or, as here, offer educational possibilities? Why not use students’ interest in breast cancer as a “hook” for science education and civic engagement? Even if teenage boys are “tittering”–forgive the pun–about “boobies” (there is no indication of such reaction but I had sons and I’m certainly willing to entertain the possibility), the focus on cancer clearly offers multiple opportunities for positive educational experiences.
And second, why don’t public school officials respect the constitutional rights of students? The law in this area is, as Ken Falk notes, pretty clear. How do we expect to raise a generation that understands and respects the constitution when those charged with their education repeatedly model unconstitutional behaviors? Authoritarian schools do not produce democratically-skilled students.
Knowledge of the word “boobies” is not nearly as damaging as being educated by people who think it’s important to pick a fight over its use.