MCSD responds to ACLU allegations
May 13, 2011
The Moffat County School District responded Friday to a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union regarding the district's actions on students wearing breast cancer awareness bracelets.
In a news release, the school district stated that administrators never banned the bracelets, which read "I (heart) Boobies. Keep a Breast Alive!"
The school district "did try, in isolated individual instances, to find alternatives to the bracelet that did not cause interruptions to our primary goals of teaching and learning," the district said in the release.
In a memo addressed to the school community, including administrators, faculty, staff and parents, district superintendent Joe Petrone said the school district would not comment beyond the release because the issue "was recently placed into the legal arena."
The bracelets are distributed by the Keep A Breast Foundation, which has a mission "to help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support," according to the foundation's website.
The ACLU's letter to the district states it was written on behalf of a Craig Middle School eighth-grader who purchased several of the bracelets while on spring break.
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The student was told by CMS Assistant Principal Jill Hafey to remove the bracelet, and Hafey informed other students at the school they were not allowed to wear them, infringing on the students' First Amendment rights, according to the ACLU's letter.
ACLU Communications Director Rosemary Harris Lytle said when students were told they could not wear the bracelets, it constituted a ban, regardless if it was put into policy.
"When a school forbids something, they say, 'If you wear that to school, you will be sent home to change … (or) disciplined in some way," she said. "That's a ban because it carries with it some penalties."
The letter indicates the middle school student understood that if she didn't remove the bracelet, she would be disciplined.
In its letter, the ACLU cites a case last month that was brought by the organization against a Pennsylvania middle school that banned the bracelets.
According to the letter, the court found the ban didn't constitute "an objectively reasonable exercise of a public school's authority to ban lewd or vulgar speech."
"In that case, the three principals of Easton Area Middle School banned 'I (heart) Boobies! Keep a Breast Alive' bracelets because they believed the term 'boobies' was 'inappropriate' for young people, was 'vulgar' and could be construed as having a sexual connotation," the letter states.
"Given the remarkable factual similarities between Easton Area School District and the instant case, a court would almost certainly find that the school's decision to prohibit (the student) from wearing bracelets in support of breast cancer awareness cannot be justified under the United States Constitution."
The ACLU letter ends with a request for the school district to contact the organization by May 19, or the ACLU will "consider appropriate next steps."
Harris Lytle said Friday afternoon that the ACLU hadn't heard back from the district.
According to the school district, students were encouraged to wear the bracelets inside out as an alternative. However, the school district also reported that students will now be allowed to wear the bracelets without issue from administrators.
"Though reasonable and generally accepted, the approach led to accusations that MCSD was restricting the open expression of our students on matters of cancer awareness," the district said. "In the interest of relieving expressed concerns and misunderstandings, students may wear the bracelets."
The district said its actions were intended to limit interruption to teachers or students, not to restrict conversation on cancer awareness.
"Parents can rest assured that our vigilance over needless interruptions and learning will not be compromised," the district said.