RAPID CITY — Two Steven High School seniors who wore t-shirts to school advocating the passage of Initiated Measure 4, the medical marijuana ballot issue, SAY their rights to political free speech were violated when the school principal confiscated the shirts, which were decorated with the image of a marijuana leaf.
David Valenzuela, 17, and Chris Fuentes, 18, were told by a Stevens security guard to remove the shirts as they entered their first period class Oct. 20. Principal Katie Bray confiscated the shirts a short time later.
Rapid City superintendent of schools Peter Wharton said Thursday the incident was a violation of school policy, not political rights.
School policy forbids clothing that displays images of alcohol, drugs or tobacco products on school grounds. That policy is clearly communicated to all students, and it is not effected by what issues may or may not be on the ballot in an election year, Wharton said.
“Unequivocally no. It had nothing to do with political speech,” he said.
Students are allowed to wear political t-shirts and other campaign-related items for candidates and issues, as long as they are appropriate, as determined by school administrators, Wharton said. This fall, numerous SHS students have worn t-shirts with an image of a human fetus and the message “Save a Life, Vote Yes on Referred Law 6.”
I’ve had some experience with this kind of ban when Illinois State University tried to
prevent us from distributing flyers with a hemp leaf.
It really disturbs me when school officials believe that they can ban an image regardless of context. It shows such a lack of… intelligence, and a lack of understanding of the constitutional principles that drive our country.
It’s one thing to ban messages that promote illegal activity. That is perfectly acceptable. But to ban any kind of message (text or image) that advocates political action, particularly while allowing other messages (text and image) promoting political action is content-based censorship and has no place in this country.
And a school superintendent who dismisses such constitutional concerns in this way…
“That’s absurd,” said Wharton. “I’m not even going to dignify that argument with a response.” A ballot initiative does not change the enforcement or the interpretation of a school dress-code regulation, he said.
… should not be involved in educating the youth of this country. Peter Wharton should instead be going back to school to learn some of the basics of being an American.
“It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech . . . at the schoolhouse gates.” — U.S. Supreme Court, Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)