Neb. students will not appeal loss in “Julius RIP” T-shirt case

Plaintiffs in a Nebraska suit that called into question the right of students to wear an “RIP” T-shirt have decided not to appeal their case.

District Judge Laurie Smith Camp wrote in a directed verdict last month that no “reasonable jury” could rule against the Millard County School District in a First Amendment lawsuit brought by three former students.

A trial jury had ruled in early April that the school district acted reasonably when it suspended Dan and Nick Kuhr in 2008 for wearing T-shirts which read “Julius RIP.”

The T-shirts were in remembrance of Julius Robinson, who was shot in front of an apartment complex in what was believed to be an act of gang violence.

The school district suspended the Kuhrs, arguing that the T-shirts — as well as an accompanying bracelet — had the potential to cause a substantial disruption in school.

Though the jury ruled against Dan and Nick Kuhr, it did not find in favor of either party for a third plaintiff, Cassie Kuhr. However, Smith Camp’s directed verdict made clear that the school district had presented “uncontroverted evidence” in defense of the suspensions.

Brian Jorde, who served as attorney for the Kuhrs, said the decision not to appeal was a challenging but necessary one.

“It becomes a practical question of whether the Court of Appeals will reverse the trial court judge,” he said. “We realized that we’re in one of the most conservative circuits in the country, and we decided not to move forward on that basis.”

Jorde added, though, that Smith Camp’s ruling was “puzzling,” considering the nature of the bracelets — which, despite only reading “In Loving Memory, Julius Robinson, #33,” were also banned.

Thirty-three was Robinson’s football jersey number.

“What it came down to was that the mention of someone’s name on the bracelet led to speech being suppressed,” Jorde said. “That’s the message the school is sending, and that’s where this gets a bit preposterous.”

Duncan Young, attorney for the school district, believes that “the case was decided appropriately and properly.”

While Jorde is disappointed with the precedent this may set for free expression in the school district, he was pleased with the progress made throughout the case.

“We believe our victory was in getting to trial and the fact that the jury in Cassie’s case couldn’t reach a decision,” he said. “This wasn’t an easy decision [not to appeal], but in the end it was for the greater good.”