MISSOURI — A former Farmington High School student is suing the school district claiming that officials violated his First Amendment rights when he was not allowed to wear clothing with the Confederate flag.
According to the lawsuit, Bryce Archambo arrived at the high school Sept. 27 wearing a baseball cap with an emblem of the Confederate States of America that the school described as the “rebel flag.” The document states that a teacher took the cap from Archambo because of the “inherent message of racism” associated with the insignia.
The next day, Archambo wore a t-shirt and belt-buckle with Confederate emblems to school and was suspended for wearing the clothing. The lawsuit says Archambo’s mother later permanently removed him from the school.
The complaint, filed with the Eastern District Court of Missouri, calls the actions of school officials “unconstitutional,” “overbroad” and “discriminatory.”
The lawsuit also states that the wearing of clothing with the Confederate emblem is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and that the symbol was not worn in a disruptive manner. Among other court cases, the complaint cited Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which found that administrators may not censor student expression unless it causes a substantial disruption of school activities or violates the right of others.
“[Archambo] indicated he understood that the Confederate material could be offensive or intimidating,” said Tom Mickes, the lawyer representing the school district.
Mickes also said that the school’s actions were taken in order to ensure an educational environment free from “intimidation.” Mickes also said the school never suspended Archambo but merely told him to turn his shirt inside out. Pulling Archambo out of school was his mother’s decision, Mickes said.
“School policy prohibits … symbols and speech that are racially offensive and statements and apparel that can cause disruption in the school,” Mickes said. “We don’t have to wait until we have a brawl.”
Mickes said the school also took into consideration a recent investigation into allegedly racist statements made by Farmington High School students at a basketball game. Mickes said an in-depth investigation was conducted because of the presence of Confederate flags when the incident occurred, although the incident did not take place at Farmington High School.
Archambo’s lawyer, Robert Herman, was not available for comment.