A Michigan school district is facing a lawsuit for allegedly showing a “continuing pattern of discrimination” against students who support former President Donald Trump. The Tri County Area Schools reportedly prohibited student clothing with the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” under its dress code.
The phrase, originally improvised by a sports reporter amid “F— Joe Biden” chants after a NASCAR race, has since become a G-rated slogan against President Biden.
Tri County Area Schools is not the only school district to allegedly target pro-Trump messages. Other districts have reportedly singled out such messages for prohibition, such as a Mississippi district that revised its dress code after a legal warning about a student ordered to remove a Trump face mask, and a North Carolina principal who was “replaced” after telling a student to remove a Trump jersey.
According to the lawsuit, Andrew Buikema, assistant principal of Tri County Middle School, told two pseudonymous student plaintiffs to remove their Let’s Go Brandon sweatshirts, calling the slogan akin to “the f-word.” Teacher Wendy Bradford also reportedly prohibited the sweatshirt without elaboration.
Neither student has since worn “non-disruptive, non-vulgar politically expressive attire to school” out of fear of punishment.
The lawsuit argues that Tri County Area Schools is flouting a major Supreme Court precedent on student speech by censoring political speech.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is representing the students in its first legal foray into K-12 education since expanding its purview beyond higher education last year. FIRE is challenging the dress code as unconstitutionally vague and likely to result in “subjective and discriminatory enforcement.”
FIRE highlights the Supreme Court’s 1969 Tinker decision that upheld the right of students to wear divisive political symbols to school: black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that the assistant principal and teacher should have known that they had “no legitimate, let alone compelling state interest in prohibiting peaceful, non-disruptive support for or opposition to political candidates and figures in schools” and that this was not “the least restrictive means of achieving such an interest” as constitutionally required.
The plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages against the individual defendants and damages against the district, as well as a declaration that the “policy, practice, and custom of prohibiting” the anti-Biden slogan infringes their free speech and discriminates by viewpoint in light of the district’s tolerance for “other political and social messages.”
Superintendent Allen Cumings declined to comment on the pending litigation or matters that involve students of the district due to federal privacy laws and Board Policy.
The district has stood firm against threatened litigation by the students, claiming that the slogan is “transparent code for using profanity against the President” and that one student admitted knowing this. However, the lawsuit argues that a “simple Google search” verifies that “Let’s Go Brandon” in and of itself is a crude slogan and does not necessarily equate to profanity.
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