The Superintendent of Orange Unified School District in Orange County, California, has issued a formal apology to a student who got in trouble for wearing a National Rifle Association T-shirt to class.
Superintendent Michael L. Christensen said in a statement that the student and her family “received an apology” for the incident that occurred last month at Canyon High School.
Sophomore Haley Bullwinkle had a run in with school authorities for wearing an NRA T-Shirt that read, “National Rifle Association of America: Protecting America’s Traditions Since 1871” and depicted a buck, an American Flag and a hunter.
A security officer noticed the shirt and ordered her to go to the counseling office. While there, a staff member told her that the T-shirt violated the school’s policy with respect to clothing that is depicting or promoting violence. Bullwinkle was told to remove the shirt and wear one provided by the school.
Bullwinkle was upset that she had to remove the shirt, which was a gift from her father, who is described as a proud and unapologetic NRA member.
“I felt like they were violating my rights, my freedom of speech,” the sophomore told the LA Times. “I want to be able to wear what I want to wear within reason.”
“They were treating me like I was a criminal,” she told a local CBS News affiliate. “I was not allowed to wear that at school because it promoted gun violence.”
Her father was outraged. He emailed the school’s principal to find out what was wrong with the shirt.
“The shirt had a gun on it, which is not allowed by school policy,” Principal Kimberly Fricker said in an email. “It’s protocol to have students change when they’re in violation of the dress code.”
According to the school’s dress code, teachers and administrators have carte blanche to declare something inappropriate.
“In general, anything that is divisive or offensive to a staff member,” the policy said. “The administration reserves the right to restrict any clothing or accessories that in our judgment detracts from the educational environment of Canyon High School.”
Bullwinkle’s father found this to be hypocritical, noting that the drill team practices with fake rifles and that the school mascot is a Comanche.
“I think that if you consider the hunter, the image of the hunter to be offensive, certainly there are groups that would consider the Comanche Indian chief to be offensive,” he said.
To make his case more forcefully, Bullwinkle lawyered-up, hiring Chuck Michel, an attorney who has done some work in the past for the NRA.
“If they’re going to try to characterize this shirt as depicting violence, then this policy is overboard,” Michel told the LA Times, “School officials can’t write themselves a policy that gives them unfettered discretion.”
Given the threat of a lawsuit, the School District came to its senses. Christensen issued the apology and then said that, moving forward, “The student will be permitted to wear the shirt.”
Here’s Christensen’s full statement:
Response to Canyon High School NRA Shirt Incident
Canyon High School has a policy prohibiting clothing depicting or promoting violence. In this incident, a student was referred to the counseling office by a security officer because she was wearing a shirt with a logo that included a rifle. The student was instructed by a staff member to change her shirt and was provided another shirt to wear.
The parents contacted the principal a week after the incident to express concern. At that time, the principal was unaware of the incident and provided an initial response regarding the school policy on clothing that depicts violence. After reviewing pictures of the shirt, the principal determined that the shirt logo does not promote violence.
The family was contacted and advised that wearing the shirt was not contrary to the school dress code policy and the student will be permitted to wear the shirt. The student and family received an apology and assurance that training will be provided to staff so an incident like this does not occur again.
Personal story (that’s not totally relevant but something I’ll share anyhow):
Gym class, circa 1996. From the locker room, out walks Anthony ‘Mozzarella’ (an Italian kid we nicknamed ‘Mozzarella’) wearing a pair of blue shorts and a black t-shirt that read, in bold white lettering, “Burn MotherFucker Burn.”
Clearly, not appropriate for school. Though, of course, as 13-year-old middle school students, we thought it was the funniest thing we’d ever seen because, well, because it was so freakishly obscene and inappropriate.
Our gym teacher, Mr. Radich, did not find it that funny. However, he did not throw a fit. He very calmly but sternly told Anthony ‘Mozzarella’ to go back into the locker room and turn the shirt inside out.
Anthony ‘Mozzarella’ protested at first, “C’mon Radich, this shirt rocks!” But when Mr. Radich told him again to change, this time not so calmly, Anthony ‘Mozzarella’ listened and did as he was told.
There was no reason to involve the principal. No one as far as I could tell was offended by the t-shirt. And after about 30 seconds, when we finally stopped laughing, we all moved on with life. Of course, that was then, a time when teachers and school administrators still used common sense.
What happened to those days? Why are teachers and school administrators busting kids for wearing clothing that is not even in the least bit controversial or offensive? An NRA T-shirt, really? I don’t get it. Can someone please explain this to me?
If a student wore a “Burn Motherfucker Burn” T-shirt to school nowadays, he’d probably be expelled. That’s crazy. I think people are way, way too sensitive these days.