A federal district judge in Indiana has ruled that school administrators may prohibit “I <3 Boobies” breast-cancer-awareness bracelets, saying they could be considered lewd or vulgar student speech.
Judge Joseph S. Van Bokkelen this month rejected the reasoning of the full federal appeals court in Philadelphia, which ruled earlier in the month that the bracelets could not be barred because they comment on a social issue and are not “plainly lewd.”
The Fort Wayne school district barred the bracelets, which are produced by the Keep A Breast Foundation of Carlsbad, Calif., after a male high school student in 2010 was wearing one when he harassed a female student by repeating the phrase “I love boobies” around her. District officials, who had also confiscated a bracelet that said, “Save the boobs,” concluded that such messages were offensive to women and inappropriate for school regardless of their breast-cancer-awareness theme.
The ban was challenged on First Amendment grounds by a female student identified as K.A., a rising senior in Fort Wayne.
The bracelets have caused controversy in several schools around the country. In its decision in B.H. v. Easton Area School District, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that the bracelets could not be categorically barred as lewd under U.S. Supreme Court precedents on student speech.
But Judge Van Bokkelen concluded, in J.A. v. Fort Wayne Community Schools, that the word “boobies” is often vulgar by itself, and the “I <3 Boobies” slogan has been interpreted sexually by middle school boys, among others.
The judge said high school is a place where the youngest students are not very far removed from the maturity level of middle schoolers.
A version of this article appeared in the August 28, 2013 edition of Education Week as Federal Judge Upholds Ban Against ‘Boobies’ Bracelets