Parents challenge school’s ‘I Heart Boobies’ ban in federal court

The parents of two middle school students sued a Pennsylvania school district Monday over its ban of the controversial “I Heart Boobies” cancer awareness bracelets.

The suit alleges that the Easton Area School District violated the free expression rights of the two girls, identified in court documents as “B.H.” and “K.M.,” when it banned students from wearing the bracelets last month. The students claim their principal gave them in-school suspension — and said they could not attend school dances — as punishment for wearing the bracelets.

The bracelets are distributed by the Keep A Breast Foundation to promote awareness of breast cancer. Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

“These girls have had people close to them affected and killed by breast cancer and they want to raise other students’ awareness about this vitally important health concern,” ACLU attorney Mary Catherine Roper said in a news release. “Schools have some leeway to limit what students say in school, but that should not extend to banning expression about something as important as breast cancer.”

The students’ attorneys argue the bracelets did not cause the “material and substantial disruption” required to regulate student expression under the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines. They also argue the bracelets are not lewd or indecent — the kind of speech that can be punished under the post-Tinker case of Bethel v. Fraser.

In addition to the specific claims about the bracelets, the suit also challenges the school’s dress code as unconstitutionally vague and overbroad because it “allows the principal to ban expressive clothing that the principal deems in ‘poor taste.'”

The school dress code lists “clothing imprinted with nudity, vulgarity, obscenity, profanity, and double entendre pictures or slogans,” as an example of punishable attire “considered to be in poor taste.”

The students are seeking to have the punishment expunged from their records and an injunction barring the school from enforcing the dress code against the bracelets, along with court costs and attorneys fees.

The full complaint is available here.