Let common sense reign on ‘booby bracelets’

Monday, December 27, 2010

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Public school officials in Utah and Missouri recently administered a large dose of common sense when they agreed to allow students to wear the popular “I (heart) boobies” bracelets.

A school superintendent in West Valley City, Utah, told his principals that they were not allowed to ban the bracelets, according to the Associated Press. Similarly, earlier this month, a public school in Kansas City, Mo., agreed to rescind a student’s suspension for the wearing the bracelets after pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Students in other districts have not been as fortunate. Schools in Florida, California and South Dakota have banned the bracelets. Administrators claim that the bracelets cause distractions in school and encourage male students to harass female students.

Such fears often seem overblown. Under the First Amendment, public school officials may not act on “undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance,” as the U.S. Supreme Court made clear more than 40 years ago in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. Under the Tinker standard, public school officials can censor student expression only if they can reasonably forecast that the expression will cause a substantial disruption or significant interference with school activities.

The bracelets may cause minor disruptions at some schools, but not substantial disruptions. Most students who wear the bracelets do so for a noble purpose — to bring attention to the scourge of breast cancer or to honor people they know afflicted with the disease. The bracelets give school officials a perfect opportunity to teach about the First Amendment, freedom of speech, differences of opinion and appropriate behavior.

Students have a First Amendment right to wear these bracelets. Let's hope school officials across the country will respond to the bracelets by embracing them as student free speech.

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