A federal district judge has blocked a Pennsylvania school district from enforcing its ban against breast cancer-awareness bracelets that refer to “boobies,” saying the ban is likely unconstitutional under U.S. Supreme Court precedents on student speech.
The rubber bracelets, sponsored by the nonprofit Keep A Breast Foundation of Carlsbad, Calif., feature slogans such as “I ♥ Boobies (Keep a Breast)” and “Check y♥urself (Keep a Breast).” They are meant to facilitate discussion about breast cancer and breast health.
The Easton Area School District banned the bracelets last fall. Officials at Easton Area Middle School believed the reference to “boobies” was vulgar and inappropriate for middle school students, and the bracelets would encourage students to repeat the phrase in other contexts.
Two students who were suspended for defying the prohibition challenged it in court through their parents as a violation of their First Amendment free-speech rights.
U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin said in her April 12 opinion in H. v. Easton Area School District that the bracelets cannot be considered lewd or vulgar under the Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in Bethel School District v. Fraser, which gave schools the authority to punish lewd student speech.
“The bracelets are intended to be and they can reasonably be viewed as speech designed to raise awareness of breast cancer and to reduce stigma associated with openly discussing breast health,” the judge said.
The judge said school officials gave differing justifications for the ban, and even used the word “boobies” in an announcement to students about the restriction.
“This supports a conclusion that the school did not actually consider the word ‘boobies’ to be vulgar,” she said.
Also, the school district did not present evidence that the bracelets substantially disrupted school, which would have permitted the restriction under the high court’s 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.
“At the time of the ban, the school had at most a general fear of disruption,” the judge said.
This Associated Press story discusses the case as well as challenges to bans on such bracelets in other school districts across the country.
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.