A federal appeals court last week decided not to reconsider a controversial ruling that upheld a California school district’s decision to bar T-shirts with slogans that “denigrate” gay and lesbian students. The July 31 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, not to rehear the case prompted a sharp dissent by five of the court’s judges.
“[I]f displaying a distasteful opinion on a T-shirt qualifies as a psychological or verbal assault, school administrators have virtually unfettered discretion to ban any student speech they deem offensive or intolerant,” said the dissenting opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain.
In April, a panel of the 9th Circuit court ruled 2-1 that the 33,000-student Poway, Calif., school district could bar T-shirts with slogans such as “Homosexuality is shameful.” The majority said schools need not tolerate verbal assaults that could interfere with the educational development of gay teenagers. A student, Tyler Chase Harper, had worn such a shirt to school in 2004 the day after some students had participated in a gay-rights event at Poway High School. (“U.S. Court Backs School’s Decision to Bar Student’s Anti-Gay T-Shirt,” May 3, 2006.)
Tim Chandler, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based legal organization that is representing the student, said the group was evaluating whether to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A version of this article appeared in the August 09, 2006 edition of Education Week