It’s just a T-shirt

Unless it says “Drugs Suck!”

Anita Marie Wertz, Adviser

When 12-year-old Kimberly Broussard attended a New Kids on the Block concert on March 31, 1991, she never imagined the controversy one black T-shirt would cause. When she wore the shirt to school with the message “DRUGS SUCK!” and “NKOTB Donnie Wahlburg” on April 17, she had no idea it would get her suspended. She did not know that she would sue her school for infringing on her First Amendment rights.

Teachers at Blair Middle School believed that the words on Kimberly’s shirt were inapproprite for school. Her communication skills teacher took her to the office.

The dean of students consulted with an assistant principal. The two determined that the word “sucks” ws inappropriate for school a it had a sexual connotation. Kimberly was given three choices – 1) turn the shirt inside out, 2) put on another shirt of she had one, or 3) borrow a shirt from another student. Kimberly refused all three choices.

The school called her mother, Ruth Lord, requesting that she bring a change of shirt to school for Kimberly. Lord said that she couldn’t leave the house, but when her husband returned home she would send him with a shirt. Lord expressed her concern that Kimberly not miss any class time by being held in the office. Kimberly was sent to class. She was to return at the end of class to see if her stepdad had brought a replacement shirt. She returned after every class.

Her stepdad arrived between noon and 1 p.m. He stated that he did not see the problem with the shirt. Kimberly refused to change. The principal said that if she remained at school wearing the innapropriate shirt she would be suspended. Kimberly and her stepdad went home. Mom returned to the school later to pick up a formal suspension notice,

Kimberly was reinstated into school on April 19.

When Kimberly sued the school, with the support of her parents and the ACLU, she claimed that the school had violated her First Amendment rights and the Tinker Standard.

The court ruled in favor of the school, stating although the shirt displayed an anti-drug message, the word “sucks” was a vulgar word with a sexual connotation and therefore not allowed in school.

Schools can ban shirts with sayings that are considered sexual and can ban articles of clothing that would cause a substantial disruption of the school environment or cause harm for the student or other students.