The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal that sought to restrict student free speech. The Supreme Court action removes a ban on “i ♥ boobies!” bracelets that one Pennsylvania school district enacted.
The “I ♥ boobies! (KEEP A BREAST)” rubber message bracelets were developed as a fundraiser by the Keep-A-Breast Foundation to promote breast cancer awareness. Two female students were wearing the bracelets and suspended when they refused to take them off. The two girls sued. Thus began a journey and lesson in the legal process that wound up today at the Supreme Court.
The bracelets were becoming a fad among middle school students in eastern Pennsylvania’s Easton Area School District in 2010. School officials, who were uncomfortable with the slang reference to breasts, worried that the bracelets were a distraction and could potentially created a sexually hostile environment. So, they banned the bracelets at the school. With their parents’ permission, the two students defied the ban and then sued when the school suspended them and revoked other privileges.
A local federal judge agreed with the students that “i ♥ boobies!” is not an inherently sexual message. The school district took the issue to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also sided with the girls. They felt that the school was trying to restrict free speech. Their ruling said that the message on the bracelets is not lewd and can easily be interpreted as a comment on a social issue.
Not willing to give up, the school district took the boobies bracelet ban issue to the Supreme Court hoping they would take action that removes the lower court ruling. The school district argument was that officials at a school or district level should have the authority to ban messages on campus that they find lewd or vulgar. The brief filed stated that there were no previous court precedents that allowed student speech with sexual innuendo or scatological references to be tolerated because they could be connected with a social cause.
The American Civil Liberties Union argued for the girls, noting that the bracelets were part of a campaign that was designed to resonate with young women by using language they find familiar and non-threatening. The ACLU lawyer noted that boobies is not a vulgar term for girls who use it to refer to their breasts. They did not see the message as a sexual double-entendre. The school officials said, however, that middle-school boys would comment about how they like boobies too, which was a sexual comment.
The National School Boards Association filed a brief on behalf of the school district expressing concern that school officials were being left with an unworkable standard for student free speech and an inability to take action when student push the envelope with an image or phrase that faculty feel has no place in the classroom.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined today to take up the legal dispute. The Supreme Court decision leaves in place the earlier federal appeals court ruling that removes the boobies ban.
By Dyanne Weiss