Boobs and “Boobies”

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.


  1. I think the problem is that school administrators receive very little education themselves in the laws that relate to educational institutions. They mostly receive education on IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act, for purposes of preparing and administering IEPs and 504 plans. When it comes to First Amendment law, they are given scant information about students’ rights and where to draw the lines. I think they have been told that the line should be drawn at Tinker’s “disruption of the educational environment” standard, but where speech becomes disruptive conduct is not well fleshed-out for them, so they can pretty much claim that any conduct they dislike or are uncomfortable with is disruptive. I have long argued that if we are to teach our children to respect other people’s rights (and to stand up for their own rights), then we need to start by educating the educators.

  2. Mr. Elston is correct that school administrators and boards have little understanding of first amendment or other constitutional rights as they apply to students, parents, taxpayers, staff, meetings, instruction, and more. It’s desperately needed.

  3. Many of those same students, parents, and administrators watched the Super Bowl commercials, all of which were obscenely expensive and close to obscenity themselves. First out was a track athlete shooting other track athletes during a competition. Not at all funny considering the murders of athletes at the Olympics not all that long ago. That commercial was followed by a string of bombing and explosions, one after another. Then there was the ad with the child supposedly taking a leak out of doors and finally just “warming the water” in the swimming pool. Inappropriate and unsafe for others in that pool.

    Needless to say, many will go out and try some of those lame-brained stunts they saw in the commercials, even though the tiny writing on the bottom of the screen says, “professional driver/stunt person–do not attempt”.

    Viewers (including those same administrators, students, and parents) laughed, pointed (“hey, watch this!”) and thoroughly enjoyed all that inappropriateness and violence. Yet, L. G. can’t wear his plastic bracelet for breast cancer awareness.

    I shall find and display one of my favorite magnetic bumper signs in honor of L. G. It says SAVE THE TA-TAs!

  4. Boards have plenty of excellent opportunities to learn about first amendment rights and case law in this area. When I was a school board member, I attend numerous presentations at school board association conventions at both the state and national level.

  5. Indiana law requires schools to prevent harassment and bullying. I find very little credibility in the argument that middle-school-aged boys are so very enlightened that they are genuinely supporting breast cancer, and not getting the giggles off of using a forbidden word. If that truly were the case, we would also see the SGK pink bracelets with the inspirational words (strength, hope, etc.), or at least a few pink ribbons in the mix. I find it far more likely that this is some sort of attempt to get permission to harass middle-school-aged girls with titters and finger-pointing, or at least get away with using a word that is otherwise considered to be harassing under school policy.

    Schools are required to maintain order, teach respectful behavior towards others and educate students. If you tie administrators hands by telling them that otherwise-inappropriate language is “OK” simply because it is pink, you are creating a slippery slope that will make educating our young people more difficult than it already is. What’s next? Can girls start wearing blue bracelets in support of testicular cancer? I shudder to think what that would say.

  6. Well, I hope nobody is has the car magnet to “Save the Ta Ta’s” on school property. This is rather unfortunate, but I am getting used to some of the common senseless stances the schools choose to sound off about. My m other’s side of the family are all teachers. I worked at a Public Health nurse who had to teach breast and testicular examination to 9th grade boys and girls.
    I sometimes wonder if the educational system is connected too closely to political influence to be really effective. What a missed opportunity for discussion

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