A Pennsylvania school board is appealing a U.S. Circuit Appeals Court decision that ruled in favor of two female students who were suspended for wearing “I (heart) boobies” breast cancer awareness bracelets.
The case, which the Easton Area School Board hopes will be heard by the Supreme Court, has turned into a battle over the two students’ right to free speech — and the district’s right to institute regulations outlawing lewd and over-sexualized clothing and accessories.
In August, a Third Circuit Court ruling upheld a lower court’s decision in favor of the girls. At that time, the district’s superintendent, John Reinhart, told the Easton Express-Times that the decision undermined the district’s ability to set its own rules.
“The Third Circuit Court has compromised administrators’ abilities to intervene in what is and what is not appropriate in school,” he said.
The case started when two female high school students wore “I (heart) boobies” bracelets to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Day. The district, which has a ban against the bracelets, argued the content of the message was lewd in nature, resulting in the girls’ suspension.
The girls are fighting the case along with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which saw the action as a violation of the students’ First Amendment rights.
“The First Amendment protects schools as a space where students are free to discuss important issues like breast cancer and talk about their bodies in positive terms,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a press release.
The first ruling on the case came in April 2011, when a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that the school’s policy violated the students’ First Amendment rights. At that time, the judge issued an injunction against the Easton Area School District’s ban on the bracelets.
Along with concerns over “lewd” messages and the “over-sexualization” of the student body, the district argued that the bracelets served as a disruption, yet was unable to identify a case in which the bracelets actually disrupted the district’s activities.
“The majority’s opinion recognizes that teens, like adults, must be free to speak and learn about important issues that affect them. Even issues, like breast cancer, that make school administrators uncomfortable,” Roper said in a press release following the August ruling.
The decision to appeal the federal court ruling came after the Easton Area School Board voted 7-1 in favor of the move. The board’s only dissenting voice, Frank Pintabone, pleaded with the board to give it up, citing the court cases that repeatedly ruled against them.
“I think we should be done with it. Let it go. We lost 20, 30 times, I don’t even know anymore,” Pintabone said, according to the Express-Times.