Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When Should A School Censor A Student's T-shirt Message?

Very seldom, in my not so humble opinion.

Asked to wear red, white and blue to show patriotism, 11-year-old Daxx Dalton came to his Colorado K-8 school in an anti-Obama shirt calling the candidate “the terrorist’s best friend.” He was suspended for refusing to turn it inside out or change shirts.

At school, I can see forbidding sexual, drug, and certain weapons references, but not political messages. As I commented at Joanne's site:

I’m offended by certain t-shirts every day. That doesn’t mean they should be banned. Tinker v. Des Moines, and all that.

Government agencies should not be in the habit of censoring political views.


Ellen K said...

If the student actually understood the message, then it's a first amendment issue. But on the other hand, if the kid is simply doing it at the request of others, especially adults, then it's a situation that is not being well handled. I don't like kids being used as campaign props. At some point it might be for the student's protection if angry opponents targeted him for retribution.

Mrs. C said...

I saw the Fox News interview and it sure looked like Dad was coaching the kid. JMO but generally speaking I'd agree with Darren. :]

mazenko said...

The courts have long decided that a student's right to free expression (speech) especially in terms of clothing can be limited if it is deemed disruptive to the educational environment. That is exactly what happened in this case. According to the Denver Post:

"While on the school playground that morning, Daxx and other students got into a shouting match over the shirt, Superintendent John Barry said.

Barry said Daxx was not suspended for what he wore but because, according to school policy, "any type of attire which attracts undue attention to the wearer, and thus causes disturbance to the educational process, is in bad taste and not acceptable."

When the argument spilled into first-period math class, Daxx was sent to the principal's office. He was given the option of turning the shirt inside out, wearing a shirt provided by the school or going home and changing into something else and coming back to class.

Daxx didn't like any of those options, so district officials suspended him."

Clearly, the disruptive element was relevant here, especially because the boy's sister also wore an anti-Obama shirt, but she was not suspended because it didn't create disruption, and she didn't refuse options given by the administration to alleviate the situation.

Sadly, this is an example of an eleven-year-old boy's father exploiting his son - not to mention a non-partisan ceremony to honor Medal of Honor recipients - for his own political agenda.

This is a true shame.

Anonymous said...

What if his shirt is having a negative effect on the learning environment?

E-d said...

The kid can't even vote yet. What cogent political views does an 11 year old have?

Take the shirt off.

allen (in Michigan) said...

This is a neat microcosm to explore what happens when citizens are deprived of their rights without due process.

Mandatory attendance means the scope of authority is limited only by the greater society surrounding this bubble of authoritarianism. If a kid wears an anti-McCain t-shirt then it's only the high-mindedness and civic spirit of the local authority figures that ensures he'll be treated the same as a kid who wears an anti-Obama t-shirt.

If the teachers/principal/superintendent see nothing wrong with an anti-McCain t-shirt then it's only recourse to the greater society outside the bubble of educational authoritarianism that might generate a motivation to pursue a more evenhanded response.

By the way, now you know at least one of the reasons why public school officials are as likely to cover up a criminal act occurring within a school as to press charges: better to let a crime go unpunished then to compromise the independence and authority of the school district.

Skip said...

Wouldn't this have been a great teaching moment about tolerance of someone's opinions? What did the kids learn in this situation? Create a ruckus and the viewpoint of something you oppose will go away. The kid who got into a shouting match "won"! How about, "Hey kid, it doesn't matter what you think, that's his political opinion, he's entitled to it. Knock it off, or you will be removed from class for causing a disturbance."

To me, this is the same thing as punishing the kid who has been bullied because he finally defends himself.

E-d said...

Maybe we should have 'Wear Your Parents Politics and Religion Day". Our little walking billboards.

There would be the "Nobama" and "B. Hussein Obama" shirt along with the "Bush Lied People Died" and the "Somewhere in Texas a Village is Missing an Idiot" shirts as well as "Jesus Loves You" "Coexist" and "God Hates a Fag". Where's the line for decorum?

Common sense dictates there are places where religious and political discourse should not be driven by 11 year olds.

Religion and politics at public school should probably be kept to Religious Studies classes and Political Science classes.