PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A Pennsylvania school district cannot prevent two middle school students from wearing breast-cancer-awareness bracelets emblazoned with the phrase “I [Heart] Boobies!,” a federal judge ruled.
The students, one of whom was honoring a close friend that underwent a double mastectomy, were suspended in November after wearing the bracelets to the Easton Area Middle School on Breast Cancer Awareness Day. They filed suit shortly thereafter and defended their case at a February hearing.
Tuesday’s ruling grants a preliminary injunction against the district’s attempt to ban the bracelets at school.
“These bracelets cannot reasonably be considered lewd or vulgar under the standard of Fraser,” U.S. District Judge Mary McLaughlin ruled in a 40-page opinion, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision in Bethel School District v. Fraser. In that decision, the high court supported a high school’s suspension of a student who nominated a peer for student government in a speech rife with sexual themes and double entendres.
“Nor has the school district presented evidence of a well-founded expectation of material and substantial disruption from wearing these bracelets under Tinker,” McLaughlin added, referring to the standard established by the flagship 1969 Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. That case established the constitutionally protected right of students protesting the conflict in Vietnam to wear black armbands, and blocked school administrators from curbing student expression until they could prove the expression would considerably interfere with school operation.
When Easton enacted the bracelet ban this fall, none of the school’s three principals “had heard any reports of disruption or student misbehavior linked to the bracelets,” Judge McLaughlin found Tuesday. “Nor had any of the principals heard reports of inappropriate comments about ‘boobies.'”
“If the phrase ‘I [Heart] Boobies!’ appeared in isolation and not within the context of a legitimate, national breast cancer awareness campaign, the School District would have a much stronger argument that the bracelets fall within Fraser,” she added.
“The School itself used the word ‘boobies’ in a prepared statement delivered by a student announcing the bracelet ban,” the judge continued. “A school would not have been willing to use lewd or vulgar language in a broadcast to its entire student body.”