April 30, 2005

Milford High School Implements Heckler's Veto Policy

Principal John Brucato of Milford High School in Milford, Massachusetts, sees the issue as a very clear one. The shirts that a few students wore to school on Tuesday were inapporpiate, and had to go.

"It's analogous to somebody wearing a slogan T-shirt that's an advertisement for drugs or alcohol -- that's against our philosophy," he said.

What were the horrendous words on the shirts? Why, they were pro-life messages. They said that "Abortion Kills" and "Abortion Is Homicide".

In Brucato's defense, he was merely upholding a school policy that reads as follows.

The Milford High School Student Handbook states, "Individual attire that is disruptive to the educational process or causes distraction to others will not be tolerated. Inappropriate dress will be defined as any clothing/accessory that disrupts the regular learning process and leads to distraction or is offensive, vulgar or provocative to other students, faculty, staff or administration."

It also details the banned items as, "clothing which displays tobacco or alcohol advertising, profanity, racial slurs, disruptive images or words, drug or gang related symbols" and "offensive images or words that would be considered socially, culturally or ethically inappropriate and disrupt the educational process."

Unfortunately, that would appear to conflict with the following two policies. There is this one.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It is generally known as the First Amendment, and it was extended to cover state actors, including school districts, by the Fourteenth Amendment, as is noted in Tinker v. Des Moines.

The other may be found here in the Massachusetts Constitution.

Article XVI. Liberty of the Press; Freedom of Speech. - The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a state: it ought not, therefore, to be restained in this commonwealth. The right of free speech shall not be abridged.

That amendment is further amplified in Pyle v. School Committee of South Hadley

The principal, though, claims that the message on the shirts worn by a couple of high school girls caused a disruption. His evidence?

Principal John Brucato said about three or four students brought the shirts to the attention of Assistant Principal Kevin Maines.

"They were very upset that these slogan T-shirts were being displayed by kids," Brucato said. "One was upset enough to have left school and maybe a couple of others visited the adjustment counselor."

Brucato said it is his job to protect all students and he does not believe anyone's rights were violated.

"Everybody has a right to self-expression, however the law states very clearly that school buildings are limited open forums for self-expression," Brucato said. "The reason the law states that is because it grants school authorities the ability to protect everybody as a whole."

So, Principal Brucato, the fact that you have three or four kids who don't like the message is enough to shut that message down? It strikes me that the problem is the failure of your school to teach the principles contained in the First amendment and Article XVI. After all, these students should know that the right the mere fact that they are offended or upset is not a basis for the government to prohibit speech. Heck, I'm rather concerned that you are unaware of the controlling legal principles here.

So tell me, sir, objectively, what was wrong with these shirts? Not the subjective issue of "someone got upset and complained," but an actual objective standard that applies so that these students would have known that the shirts were a violation of the policy. Your own words indicate that there isn't one.

Under your explanation, a couple of Yankees fans could come to you sniffling and weeping and you would have to ban Red Sox jerseys and t-shirts from your school. All they have to do is claim to be distraught and offended. I'm sure your Muslim students will be glad to know that they can ban any Christian expression in school in precisely the same manner. And of course, you have now given the students on your campus who oppose homosexuality the tool they need to shut down any pro-homosexual propagandizing by their classmates -- they just need to burst out in tears and beg to see the "adjustment counselor." After all,such messages would have caused a disruption of similar size and nature, and you are supposed to "protect everybody as a whole."

And that is what you said in explaining why you don't believe this is a free speech case.

"These young ladies have the right to express their views and opinions -- they have not been denied those rights," he said. "What we said simply was this type of advertisement is offensive to others in the community. I've been consistent. If even one or two individuals finds something offensive I'm going to ask that individual to remove it. I'm exercising my authority and judgment as a school administrator to administrate to the population as a whole."

Principal Brucato, you had better be damned even-handed in the future, because you have set the standard here -- having knowledge of one or two individuals complaining now REQUIRES that you apply EXACTLY THE SAME STANDARD in every case. You are no longer the principal of Milford High School -- you are the Supreme Censor. Enjoy your new role.

My closing comment is this -- I admire the young ladies in question, and think they behaved appropriately in this case. While I would have liked to have read that Amanda Chattman, Autumn Gerami and their classmates had told Supreme Censor Brucato to take a flying leap, I understand their reluctance to do so. The article does not make clear what disciplinary threat Brucato bullied them with to get them to forego the liberties guaranteed them under not merely one, but two separate constitutions, so I cannot judge if they surrendered their freedom too cheaply. I just hope that they do pursue the litigation that is clearly warranted, and that in the mean time they hold Brucato's feet to the fire by monitoring what other messages are allowed and by making complaints regarding ANY they find offensive (and maybe even a few they really don't, just to make the point). Good luck, girls!

» Zero Intelligence links with: Universal veto policy implemented at Massachusetts school
» JennyD links with: Carnival of Education, Week 13
» Blind Mind's Eye links with: Texas is finally doing something about zero tolerance policies

|| Greg, 11:54 AM || Permalink || Comments (2) || Comments

Comments on Milford High School Implements Heckler's Veto Policy

They should sue Brucato for violating their rights.

|| Posted by shadowhawk, May 3, 2005 03:52 PM ||

Mr. Brucato, I'm terribly traumatized by seeing the color blue! Oh, and red, and green, too.
Help me Mr. Brucato!

|| Posted by dweeb, May 4, 2005 11:31 AM ||
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» Zero Intelligence links with: Universal veto policy implemented at Massachusetts school
» JennyD links with: Carnival of Education, Week 13
» Blind Mind's Eye links with: Texas is finally doing something about zero tolerance policies

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