This is clearly a non-disruptive protest directed against a policy impacting the students. Why, then, will the school district not permit the exercise of free speech by students who object to a new dress code?
Oh -- it has to do with the picture, which no one found offensive for well-over a month.
The parents of two students threatened with suspension for donning buttons depicting Hitler youth are suing, claiming the boys' free speech rights were violated.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Friday, seeks to bar the Bayonne school district from suspending or disciplining seventh-grader Anthony LaRocco and fifth-grader Michael DePinto if they wear the protest buttons.
The buttons, which were made to protest a mandatory uniform policy for grades K-8 adopted in September, have the words "no school uniforms" with a slash over a superimposed photo of young boys wearing identical shirts and neckerchiefs.
A lawyer for the parents, Karin R. White Morgen, said her clients did not want to speak to reporters, but provided a statement from DePinto's mother, Laura DePinto.
"I've gotten overwhelming support from MANY people that tell me that they absolutely agree with what the image depicted, an ominously homogenous group of blindly cooperative children," the statement said.
"That image showed no swastikas, no weapons, and Hitler himself wasn't depicted," she wrote. "The picture makes a profound statement about what can happen when we turn children into 'uniform' followers."
One student wore the button for at least six weeks before objections were raised last month, said Morgen.
This is the lame excuse offered by the school district.
The district, in letters sent to the parents, said the images of the Hitler youth "are considered objectionable and are offensive to many Bayonne citizens and do not constitute free speech according to Mr. Kenneth Hampton, attorney for the Bayonne Board of Education."
How, exactly, are they offensive, when no one objected for six-weeks? There are no symbols of racism or hate, and the message is clearly not one supporting Nazism or its evil works of genocide. What is being protested is forced regimentation. There can be no other legitimate understanding of the buttons, which clearly are free speech, according to the First Amendment of the Constitution.
I don't think that this should take long for the courts to decide -- after all, the controlling precedent in Tinker says the issue quite clearly in holding that neither students nor teachers "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."
Oh, and since you might be wondering -- I support the school district's uniform policy, and hope the challenge by the parents is rejected by the NJ Department of Education