SACRAMENTO (CN) – A Northern California high school that sent a girl home for wearing a “Nobody knows I’m a lesbian” T-shirt, claiming she was “promoting sex,” is facing a federal lawsuit for it.
Sixteen-year-old T.V. and her mother sued two assistant principals at Sierra High School in Manteca, a town of 72,000 just south of Stockton.
They claim assistant principal Dan Beukelman and vice principal Greg Leland violated the state and federal constitutions and the California Education Code by censoring her shirt with claims that it was “promoting sex” and “an open invitation to sex.”
Leland sent her home from school on Aug. 10 after she refused his order to change it. She says he told her “that she was not allowed to display her ‘sexuality’ on clothing.”
When she met with him the next day and pointed out that the Manteca Unified School District had no such dress code, he told her “that regardless of the dress code, she was not allowed to display her ‘personal choices and beliefs’ on a shirt. He also claimed that her shirt violated the dress code because it was ‘disruptive’ and could be ‘gang related,'” according to the Oct. 15 complaint.
T.V. says that Leland told her if it was not in the dress code, they could add it. He sent her to assistant principal Beukelman, who told her the next day, Aug. 12, when she was not wearing the shirt, that it violated the dress code because it “promoted sexuality.”
In a paragraph that might make a good classroom lesson, the complaint states: “T.V. explained to Beukelman that sex and sexuality had different meanings. Beukelman told T.V. she was wrong and claimed that sexuality fell under the category of sex.”
That led to an Aug. 13 meeting with T.V., her father, the two assistant principals and the teacher who turned her in. T.V. and her parents point out that the school allows students to wear shirts promoting commercial products, “including Captain Morgan’s Rum,” and that barring her shirt is viewpoint discrimination.
To top it off, Sierra High School and Manteca USA can suspend or expel a student for “willful defiance.” T.V. says she fears she could be expelled if she wears the shirt again.
Her attorney Christine Sun, with the ACLU of Northern California, told Courthouse News the principals should know better.
“Public schools can’t censor the political beliefs of students, and free speech is not subject to the whims and biases of school administrators,” Sun said. “This student’s school should be teaching her to think for herself, not punishing her for being herself.”
Leland and Beukelman did not return requests for comment Monday. In a statement, Manteca Unified School District said it would not discuss T.V.’s case.
“Sierra High School is a place where students are taught to respect one another and to learn to work together,” the district added. “We support free rights of speech, accept our diversity, while maintaining a learning environment free of disruption for all students. As a school and district we are obligated to adhere to all applicable federal civil rights statutes and regulations enforced by the Office for Civil Rights.”
In addition to the obvious constitutional violations, T.V. and her parents say the school is targeting her because of her sexuality, which violates the California Education Code.
“Defendants’ actions are, in whole or in part, unlawfully motivated by their disagreement with the plaintiff’s viewpoint concerning sexual orientation, or out of anti-gay animus,” the complaint states.
They seek declaratory judgment and an injunction, better training for school employees, and nominal damages of $1.
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