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Student Sues to Wear Lawyer's T-shirt

Edwards Admittedly, that headline is misleading, given that the lawyer in question is not just any lawyer but former presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards and that the principle at issue has nothing to do with the student's love of the legal profession. Still, a student at Waxahachie High School in Texas is suing school administrators in federal court in Dallas for the right to wear a John Edwards 2008 T-shirt to school. Paul Palmer, a junior at the school, claims the school's policy prohibiting "slogans, words or symbols" on clothing violates the First Amendment. The Student Press Law Center describes how the lawsuit came about:

The case began when Palmer wore black jeans, a black jacket and a black T-shirt to school on Sept. 21, 2007, and was asked by Assistant Principal Brenda Johnson to change because his attire was prohibited by the dress code, according to the lawsuit. His father brought him the Edwards T-shirt to wear instead, though both he and his son knew it broke a recently adopted rule that barred students from expressing messages that did not concern colleges, universities, or the school district's 'clubs, organizations, sports, or spirit.'

Johnson told Palmer his shirt promoted a political candidate and thus was unacceptable. Officials offered him the options of remaining in in-school suspension for the day, leaving school or changing into acceptable clothing. He changed and returned to class, and then he and his parents unsuccessfully sought to appeal the administrators' order to the school board before filing a lawsuit.

The Palmers lost their first attempt to preliminarily enjoin the policy but last week they revived their request for an injunction after the school further tightened its apparel policy. The request, filed by lawyers from the law firm Baker Botts and the Liberty Legal Institute, argues:

Our schools have a responsibility to teach students about constitutional principles not only as part of the curriculum, but also by faithfully applying them. And in the context of a presidential election year, that responsibility would seem, if anything, to lead our schools to encourage undisruptive means of expressing political views—not to stifle them.

The SPLC was unable to contact school officials for comment this week, but in a press release posted when the lawsuit was filed, the district said its dress code "enhances discipline and reduces distractions to the learning environment."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 8, 2008 at 11:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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