A Wisconsin high school is now facing a lawsuit from one of its students after the school deemed t-shirts he wore to class as unacceptable. The student, Matthew Schoenecker, believes the school violated his First Amendment right to free speech. One of the t-shirts, depicting various types of firearms, says, “Celebrate Diversity,” and the other spells out the word “love” with a handgun, grenade, knives, and a semiautomatic rifle.
Here’s more from WISN.
“I didn’t think it would get this big, this bad,” Matthew Schoenecker said.
Matthew is a Markesan High School freshman and has run head-on into the principal, over his shirts depicting guns and other weapons.
“I enjoy shooting, and I enjoy the Second Amendment, like the right to keep and bear arms,” Matthew said.
Matthew and his parents were told before spring break that he could no longer come to school wearing a T-shirt portraying guns, bombs or grenades. When he went to school Friday with a gun T-shirt on, he was sent directly to the principal’s office.
“It was his choice, whether he wears it or not. He decided ‘I’m gonna wear this. It’s my right.’ When I heard about it, I was a little upset of course, and said we got to get down there and see what’s going on,” said Matthew’s father, Brian Schoenecker.
They found Matthew had been moved to a small office known as the cubicle because he refused to cover his shirt.
“It says LOVE on his shirt. Another one (says), ‘Celebrate diversity.’ There’s nothing in there saying he’s promoting violence whatsoever, which is what the principal said was the issue, that he was promoting violence at school,” said Matthew’s mother, Pam Schoenecker.
The gun rights group, Wisconsin Carry, is funding the federal suit against the principal.
Every school in the nation has a dress code, as the schools want to keep students safe, prevent the promotion of illegal activity, and so on. That’s why high schools don’t allow shirts with the names of alcohol companies on them or images depicting drugs. It’s why some high schools ban bandanas or chains because of problems of gang violence. It’s why schools prevent guys from wearing tank tops and girls from wearing shorts that are too short, or why they ban clothing that would be considered a classroom distraction. There’s a level of decorum that these schools want to keep. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t overreact, at times.
As seen in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines, though the school suspended the students for wearing armbands to protest the Vietnam War, the First Amendment protected their right to wear what they wanted as long as the students’ actions didn’t “materially and substantially interfere” with the school day.
While the principal of Markesan High School did not respond to comment or address what part of the student dress code the student violated, the t-shirts do not appear to break the eight rules of the dress code found in the student handbook. At the end of the section, however, it’s important to note the school says “the administration or designee will use his/her discretion regarding these dress issues.”
For health and safety reasons, shoes or sandals must be worn (no bare feet or socks only or slippers).
Outer apparel is not to be worn indoors unless you have special permission from the instructor or nurse (this includes hats, hoods, bandanas, blankets, all jackets or coats and sunglasses).
Clothing or articles displaying obscenities, suggestive slogans and/or images, nudity, gangs, crime, violence, occult worship, slanderous or harassing material, encouragement of disruptive behavior, beer/alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drug designs are prohibited.
Undergarments are to be completely covered at all times.
Altered shirts, spaghetti straps, oversized and baggy clothing, see-through clothing; bare midriffs, torn or ripped clothing, chains, strapless and/or backless outfits, spandex short, and beachwear are prohibited. Shorts must be appropriate length for school.
You have the responsibility to wear safety or special purpose equipment whenever it is required.
Dress expectations for PE classes will be shared by the instructor.
Backpacks, book bags, duffel bags, purses, etc., or any item that could disrupt the educational process are to be placed in lockers and left there upon arrival at school. Keep these items in your locker until you go home. Under special circumstances, a staff member may grant an exception.
If you choose to dress inappropriately, you may be asked to call home to get a new outfit. If you have an outfit to change into your parent(s) may be asked to pick up the inappropriate outfit. The administration or designee will use his/her discretion regarding these dress issues. If you choose not to comply, you will have no choice in receiving a consequence.
As reported by WISN, Matthew has the backing of the gun rights group Wisconsin Carry. The case is one to follow as schools across the country deal with anti-Second Amendment protests, pro-Second Amendment marches, and the task of ensuring students are safe on campus.