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Yet again, friends, we find that perennial conflict, between School Administrators and Speech That Could Ruin Society As We Know it.

Today let's travel to Easton, PA, home of the Crayola Factory and birthplace of former heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes, The Easton Assassin.  And at Easton Area Middle School, they choose to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month as well as a special awareness day on October 28, at which point all hell broke loose.

See, teachers had seen "I ♥ Boobies!" bracelets floating around, and "though the bracelets had yet to cause a disruption, [Principal Angela] DiVietro said, teachers warned that they might in the future."

That didn't stop Brianna Hawk, 13, and Kayla Martinez, 12, and with the support of their parents they wore the banned paraphernalia to school on October 28, resulting in a day-and-a-half suspension from school for "defiance/disruption/disrespect" and being forbidden from attending the big middle school dance.

Enter the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which filed a complaint (PDF) in federal court, seeking a declaration that the students' rights were violated, expungement of their records, costs and attorney's fees.

Yesterday, The Hon. Mary McLaughlin of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania heard testimony on the case, and, well:

Angela DiVietro said that concerns about the bracelets surfaced in September, when four or five teachers approached the administration. Though the bracelets had yet to cause a disruption, DiVietro said, teachers warned that they might in the future.

"If this ban is lifted, what else am I going to have to worry about?" DiVietro testified. "I heart balls? I heart boobies? I heart titties? I don't agree with it. It's very upsetting to me to worry about those kind of statements coming out in my school."

U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin later asked DiVietro to clarify that no incidents occurred before the ban. DiVietro said that there was concern that the bracelets would "start to become a problem."...

The district maintains the word "boobies" when used in the phrase "I ♥ Boobies!" — which students pronounce as "I Love Boobies!" — violates the district's dress code, which prohibits clothing with "nudity, vulgarity, obscenity, profanity, and double entendre pictures or slogans."

... "Some students are not mature enough to handle that," DiVietro said.

She added that she had also banned "Big Peckers" T-shirts, which could be considered a reference to a penis, as well as "Save the ta-tas," another breast cancer awareness campaign.

On the other hand:

The school district lawyer with the task of quizzing the girls - one 13, another 12, - was John E. Freund III, who tried hard to be gentlemanly about it.

"No reason to be nervous," he assured the two Easton Area Middle School students.

The teens were composed as they took the stand before Judge Mary McLaughlin.

"That phrase, 'I Love Boobies,' do you see any other meaning to that? Say especially from boys' perspective?" Freund asked 13-year-old Brianna Hawk.

"No." Hawk said.

"Do you thinks boys would have a natural attraction to girls breasts?" Freund asked.

"Yes," Hawk said.

"So couldn't it possibly mean something else?"

"No," insisted Hawk, because in the context of the bracelet that simply was not possible, she said.

Kayla Martinez, 12, conceded some boys could behave in a less than mature fashion. But they, she said dismissively, are boys who "act like they are two."

We see this dynamic over and over again -- remember Bong Hits 4 Jesus?  School administrators act in fear of what student speech might do in advance of any evidence that it actually would cause a problem.

Lookit: if the school did experience problems of students being harassed or molested as a result of these bracelets, that'd be one thing -- just like a school with a known gang problem banning certain bandannas or colors, perhaps.  But in the absence of an actual disruption, the First Amendment rule should not allow school administrators to ban protected speech on the basis of fear alone.  

A few weeks ago, one of the students wrote a letter to the editor of her local newspaper:

I attend Easton Area Middle School 7-8. I am a college prep student with excellent grades. I am writing from in-school suspension for wearing an “I love Boobies” bracelet.

I feel my right to freedom of speech was violated, as I was expressing my care and concern toward this disease that has affected millions of women of all ages.

The principal called me in to her office for wearing the bracelet. She instructed me to remove it and hand it over. I refused as I informed her of my reasoning for wearing the item. She was rude toward me and disregarded my views. She told me the bracelet was inappropriate and I have no right to be defiant toward school regulations. My mom is supportive of the bracelet and purchased it for me.

Even though I am only 13 years old, I am well aware of breast cancer and the effects it has on woman. I think that has raised awareness of people of all ages. I feel it has done a great job of informing us women about the disease.

Age 13
Forks Township

I'll let you know what happens next.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sat Dec 18, 2010 at 05:16 PM PST.

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