R.I. education official sides with student in dispute over ‘satanic’ T-shirt
|Robert Parker, 18, holds his White Zombie rock band T-shirt as he sits outside his home in Westerly, R.I., in April while his mother Marianne Almeida looks on.|
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Two years after a student was sent home from school for
wearing a rock band T-shirt with the numerals 666, a state Education Department
official ruled yesterday that the school was wrong to do so.
Robert Parker, 18, was a sophomore at Westerly High School when school
officials sent him home and ordered him never to wear the White Zombie T-shirt
to school again, saying it posed a threat to school order. He graduated last
Yesterday, Hearing Officer Paul Pontarelli ruled that Parker had not caused
any disruption warranting being excluded from school.
Pontarelli ordered any mention of punishment related to the T-shirt — bearing
the numerals some believe refer to Satan and the name of White Zombie, the
now-defunct rock band — expunged from Parker’s educational record.
The decision shows that “schools can’t simply say there is a disruption
without backing it up with concrete evidence,” said Steven Brown, executive
director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island.
The ACLU had filed the challenge with the state Education Department,
claiming the school’s dress code was vague and violated free-speech rights. It
is now considering filing a lawsuit.
The Westerly School Committee, which spent $60,000 arguing its case, can
appeal Pontarelli’s ruling.