WISCONSIN — Aftera Pennsylvania middle school made a failed attempt at banning apparel emblazonedwith the “I (Heart) Boobies” breast cancer awareness slogan, Sauk PrairieMiddle School in Wisconsin is attempting to do the same. Now a student at theschool has filed a lawsuit alleging the ban violates her First Amendmentrights.
Kaisey Jenkins and other students wore the Keep A BreastFoundation’s bracelets and t-shirt for most of the first semester of 2010 withoutissue, according to Jenkins’ attorney, Tamara Packard. But before the secondsemester, principal Ted Harter announced “apparently out of the blue” thatanything bearing the “I (Heart) Boobies” slogan would be banned from campus.
“Apparently the principal had heard from a couple members ofhis faculty and maybe some parents that they thought the word boobies wasinappropriate in a school setting, or they were uncomfortable with the word.But there really hadn’t been any problems in connection with the studentswearing these bracelets,” Packard said. “To be honest, if they’d just not madea big deal of them, the fad, the trend would’ve – you know, probably nothingever would have happened.”
Instead, Jenkins and her mother, Caran Braun, tried to talkto the school district and the principal to discuss what they saw as aninfringement of student free speech. They hoped to get the policy reversed, butto no avail, even after enlisting the help of the American Civil LibertiesUnion of Wisconsin.
Neither Harter nor Superintendent Craig Bender responded torequests for comment, but Bender said in a February interview with Channel 3000, a Wisconsin news outlet, that the bracelets wereinappropriate because they contained sexual innuendos.
But Packard said that despite the discomfort administratorshave expressed over the term “boobies,” the phrasing can help make the issueaccessible to young people.
“This is a very serious issue, and the slang term, accordingto the Keep A Breast Foundation – and they’ve won awards for their campaign –their explanation about using this language is that it makes the issue moreaccessible, more understandable to kids,” Packard said. “It’s language thatthey’re comfortable with, and not stilted adult language that makes it harderto accept.”
Jenkins’ case follows a lawsuit against the Easton AreaSchool District in Easton, Pa., in which parents of two middle school studentscomplained that the school’s ban on the same “I (Heart) Boobies” bracelet wasunconstitutional. In April, a federal judge agreed. The case is currently beingappealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Packard called the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania cases “almostidentical.” She said she informed the school district of the Pennsylvaniacase’s outcome, but that it did not change anything.
“They said that they were aware of it, and it didn’t affecttheir decision,” Packard said.
The Wisconsin district must file a response to the suit byNov. 7.