NEBRASKA — After deliberating for more than eight hours, a jury decided the Millard Public School District did not violate the First Amendment rights of two students who wore “RIP” clothing. Jurors were unable to decide whether a third student’s rights were violated.
The jury found that the Millard County School District acted reasonably in 2008 when it suspended Dan and Nick Kuhr for wearing bracelets and T-shirts with the phrase, “Julius RIP.” In the case of Cassie Kuhr, the jury was hung, unable to reach a verdict.
The Kuhrs wore items in remembrance of their friend Julius Robinson after he was shot in front of an apartment complex the previous summer. It is believed that his death was the result of gang-related violence. To help the Robinson family raise money for the funeral, the Kuhrs made T-shirts and bracelets with his name and football jersey number.
Administrators were concerned the attire was gang-related and might cause disruption or violence at school. As a result, the Kuhrs and 26 other students were suspended for wearing the T-shirts and bracelets.
The Kuhrs sued, claiming the ban violated their First Amendment rights. A judge allowed the case to go to a jury to decide whether, under the landmark Tinker standard, school officials reasonably feared the clothing would substantially disrupt school.
Brian Jorde, attorney for the Kuhrs, said he’s not sure why the jury came to different conclusions as to the three students.
“They expressed themselves by wearing different items and different combinations on different days,” Jorde said. “One day she (Cassie) wore a bracelet with his first name written on her hand, perhaps that’s what they were caught on.”
Jorde said he will ask for a new trial in Cassie Kuhr’s case, since the jury did not find in favor of either party. He may also appeal the decision as to Dan and Nick Kuhr.
“We’ll analyze the case but the next step would be to appeal the verdict and then file the motion for a new trial,” Jorde said. “If the judge grants it then obviously we’ll go forward with this.”
Jeff Miller, one of the school district’s attorneys, said the school had reasonable information that the shirts would lead to substantial disruption, and were possibly representative of gang-related violence.
“In this case the defense argued safety and the placement of gang ties to the expression,” Jorde said. “It played on the fears of the jurors. We appreciate the jury really struggled with this and deliberated for more than eight hours. We’re eager to follow through to the next step.”
Both Dan and Cassidy have graduated and Nick is no longer attending school in the district.
By Emily Summars, SPLC staff writer