Archive for Friday, October 12, 2007

School bans student from wearing T-shirt supporting John Edwards

October 12, 2007


— A Waxahachie High School sophomore is at the center of a First Amendment debate after school officials told him he could not wear a T-shirt that supports Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

The parents of 15-year-old Paul T. "Pete" Palmer are asking school officials to reconsider the school district's dress code policy and threatening to sue if no changes are made.

Pete's dad, attorney Paul D. Palmer, said this week that the school district is entitled to a dress code as long as it doesn't violate students' constitutional rights to free political and religious expression.

"This is not about a hippie-dippy idea - 'everyone can wear whatever they want,"' Palmer said. "'This is who I support for president.' He has a right to stick that on his shirt."

The school district declined to provide specifics on the case but provided a written statement, which included the following: "The district also values student speech rights. ... Our schools, however, are not unbounded forums for practicing student speech, and our primary focus remains creating and maintaining an environment conducive to learning."

Pete said he woke up early the morning of Sept. 21 and threw on clothes before rushing off to football practice.

After practice, however, a school official pulled Pete aside and told him he was violating the dress code policy approved in May, which prohibits all-black outfits. He was sent to the administrative offices and told to change clothes before returning to class.

Pete called his father.

"He wanted me to bring another shirt," Palmer said. He then asked Pete, "How about that Edwards shirt? And he said OK."

After changing into the shirt, which read "John Edwards 08" and included a Web site address, he was told again that his clothing violated school policy and he would not be allowed to return to class until he complied, his parents said.

The school dress code policy allows T-shirts that promote Waxahachie clubs, organizations and sports or other spirit wear. College and university T-shirts or solid-colored T-shirts are acceptable.

"All polo style (knit) shirts and shirts with colors containing pictures or slogans that are provocative, offensive, sexual or suggestive in nature, vulgar, lewd or obscene are prohibited. Alcohol and tobacco pictures or slogans are also prohibited," according to the school district's dress code policy.

Pete's mom then brought him a red T-shirt and he returned to class.

The family said they had discussed Waxahachie's dress code during the summer and had been following a Vermont case in which a student was suspended for wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt to school. An appeals court upheld the student's rights and the Supreme Court rejected the school's appeal.

Pete said he did not intend to challenge the dress code that day until he got pulled aside for the black outfit. When his father asked about the Edwards shirt, Pete said, "There was an intention of challenging it at that point and seeing their reaction to it."

The school held a grievance hearing on the matter Oct. 3. In a letter to Pete's parents, Waxahachie High School Principal David Nix denied the family's assertion that Pete's First Amendment rights were being violated.

The letter said students "have a number of opportunities to express themselves through the wearing of buttons, jewelry or other symbols, forming a school-sponsored club, and speaking at limited public forum opportunities available during the day."

The principal also wrote that he was available to assist Pete with forming an approved club or organization such as "Waxahachie High School Students for Edwards."

"This would allow Pete the opportunity to express support for the political candidate of his choice through a school-sponsored organization," the letter said.

Palmer said his family has the opportunity to appeal the principal's decision and is trying to resolve the issue with the school district.


Ragingbear 10 years, 7 months ago

This was news...two weeks ago when it happened.

Tychoman 10 years, 7 months ago

Tangential, I liked your John Edward reference. Although were you referring to the guy who can speak to the dead or the Puritan?

I wonder if the school district read its own policy and found that a John Edwards '08 slogan in no way violates any of their posted dress code? This is going to be a short lawsuit which the district will not win.

Centrist 10 years, 7 months ago

They do NOT have a "no-politics" T-shirt policy, and that will do them in.

Doug Fisher 10 years, 7 months ago

just what I'd expect from Texas. I'm sure if it was a Republican candidate it they wouldn't of said anything.

imastinker 10 years, 7 months ago

Actually, it has been shown many times that students first amendment rights can be curtailed at school.

Remember the "bong hits 4 jesus guy?"

He lost.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years, 7 months ago

Actually, it has been shown many times that students first amendment rights can be curtailed at school.

Remember the "bong hits 4 jesus guy?"

He lost.

True. Same thing happened in Illinois when a kid got in trouble for wearing a shirt that said "Be Happy, Not Gay". Personally, I think a school should be allowed to enforce a dress code.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years, 7 months ago

Since when can the court restrict free speech rights based on the content of the message?

Beats me. Why don't you post a death threat against a public official here and see if anything happens.

imastinker 10 years, 7 months ago

So you think schools should allow gang colors in inner city schools too?

I think that schools need to enforce dress codes. If this T shirt was causing a big fuss that got in the way of learning, it shouldn't be there. It's no different than me walking in to work with a shirt that causes a commotion for some reason and my boss telling me to take it off. Is that a free speech issue?

imastinker 10 years, 7 months ago

Wikipedia says that the "bong hits 4 jesus" guy was late that day. They didn't say absent. The majority opinion says nothing about an absence from school.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years, 7 months ago

Apples and oranges. The kid was showing support for a political candidate on his clothing, not making threats on a privelege-based message board.

Unless the school has specific lingo banning support for political candidates, they have no legs to stand on.

Hitler was a political candidate. Should kids be allowed to wear shirts or arm bands with Nazi party symbols?

kugrad 10 years, 7 months ago

You can't wear all black in this district? Why? Is "Goth" disruptive to the school? This article details evidence of how far our rights have slipped away. They don't take the big rights away, they chip away at them setting small precedents. 30 years ago, this case would never have happened. The school district would have been laughed out of court and all would have been well. There are legitimate restrictions on free speech/expression, but there is no clear and present danger to wearing an Edwards shirt. The line isn't that blurry. This is ridiculous. Free speech rights and the NEED for free speech and personal expression rights to prevail over unnecessary restrictions has not changed. Dallas sucks.

imastinker 10 years, 7 months ago


By your thinking, a kid on a field trip has a different set of rules with which to follow than someone at achool?

oldgranny 10 years, 7 months ago

Do I need to spell out the problem for you? TEXAS. And Dallas in particular. I know. I used to live there. They are not kidding when they say "Texas a Whole Other Country". Whacko country. The kid is probably lucky he didn't get beat up.

badger 10 years, 7 months ago

Who what in the where now?

This is just plain stupid. Also known as 'happening in or close to Dallas.'

$&$(%$& yuppies and their eighty-bazillion Starbuckses and their forty-level highways and their freaky building shaped like a lipstick.

Place hasn't been the same since JR got shot.

Policy's got no prohibition on politics, looks like. School's out of luck. They could ask him to take it off, but I don't know that they can punish him for violating school dress code policy if what he wore didn't violate the written policy.

Pfui. Dallas.

Tristan Moody 10 years, 7 months ago

Did anyone notice that they also don't allow polo shirts? WTF?! Polo shirts are REQUIRED in some schools!

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 10 years, 7 months ago

"I... would never dream of wearing orange on St. Patrick's Day."

But... isn't orange the new green.

perkins 10 years, 7 months ago

I guess the Tinker case of 1969 (black arm-bands to protest Vietnam War) has been overturned.

Let us pray our school administrators use their power and discretion wisely. Mom-of-three, keep us informed!

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