T.V. v. Beukelman (Student Censorship)
ACLU Foundation of Northern California has settled a lawsuit with the Manteca Unified School District after two high school officials chastised and censored a student for wearing a shirt to school identifying herself as a proud member of the LGBT community.
ACLU Foundation of Northern California plaintiff Taylor Victor has been a student in the Manteca Unified School District since kindergarten. Soon after the start of the 2015 fall semester, Victor wore a shirt to school that read “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian.” By wearing the shirt, Victor was expressing, albeit ironically, that she is a lesbian, as well as her personal belief that LGBT people should be able to be out and proud.
She was called into the vice principal’s office and told that she couldn’t display her personal beliefs on a T-shirt. After she refused to change her shirt, the vice principal sent her home. The administration later claimed the shirt violated the dress code because it was “disruptive,” “sexually suggestive,” and “degrades religious values.”
The First Amendment and California law protect free speech rights for students. In addition, discussion of LGBT issues in the classroom is affirmatively required under state law. California’s FAIR Education Act requires schools to provide respectful, accurate, and inclusive representations of LGBT people in curriculum.
The settlement allows Victor to wear her shirt without threat of punishment or retaliation. It also updates the dress code district-wide to make it clear that students can express their own identity and their support for other students’ identities – including identities of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and other protected groups. District administrators will be required to attend professional development training to bring them up-to-date on their duty to protect free speech.