search
top

Take Off The Mask, Kid.

A fifth grader in an Orange County school has been told he cannot wear a mask from one of his families favorite restaurants, which happens to be Hooters.

Windermere, Fla. — Greg Golba and his son, Ian, don’t understand why the 11-year-old had to remove his Hooters mask at school on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s offensive at all, it’s just a restaurant,” said Ian, whose teacher at Sunset Park Elementary School in Windermere said something about it.

“I wore it and she said it was not appropriate for school,” Ian said. “I asked her why, and she said if you really want to know why go ask the principal.”

When Ian went to the principal’s office, he was asked to remove the mask again.

“He told me to take it off three times and I asked him why, and he said just take it off,” Ian said.

When the father called the school, he was told:

The principal told me it was deemed offensive to women and inappropriate,” Golba said. “There is nothing offensive or derogatory about this mask.”

Adding:

“We go there as a family. We eat there… They have the best chocolate cakes,” Golba said.

Okay.

This family may not have the best taste in cakes, but that is beside the point.

This is not a case where the kid acted out. This is a case when the kid, when asked to remove a mask that he had been wearing for four weeks wanted to know “why?”

It’s a simple request and one that the teacher should have explained. Instead, she sent the kid to the principal’s office who also would not give a reason.

Instead of a “teaching moment,” the teacher and the principal decided to teach the kid the lesson of “obey us because what we say goes and we don’t have to tell you anything.”

We disagree with the idea that this particular mask with the Hooters name on it was offensive. It contained no images or anything that would be deemed offensive by an average person.

Would the same school ban “Burger King” masks to offending people that are against a monarchy or deem “King” to be patriarchal?

Would the school be remove a “KFC” mask because it “offends” vegans?”

Or how about a mask displaying the a logo or name of the “Florida State Seminoles?” Would that be banned because it may be “offensive” to native Americans?

The school district defended this ban by saying:

The district does not comment on discipline matters but says the Hooters mask violates student dress code, which reads in part, “The principal at each school reserves the right to determine what appropriate dress is for the school.”

While a case can be made as to the appropriateness of wearing something such as length of shorts, types of shirts, etc., students still have First Amendment rights in schools.

Public schools must respect students’ constitutional right to freedom of expression—which extends to the messages students wear on their T-shirts and other clothes. But the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed certain limits on free speech in the school setting. Schools can punish students for wearing clothing with words, images, or symbols that:

  • are vulgar or lewd (Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986)),
  • promote illegal drug use (Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393 (2007)), or
  • are likely to cause serious disruption at school or violate other students’ rights (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969)).

Students often display opinions on their T-shirts that make some of their teachers and classmates uncomfortable or even angry. That reaction isn’t enough to meet the Tinker standard. For example, courts have found that schools couldn’t bar students from wearing:

  • black armbands as an antiwar protest (Tinker)
  • buttons protesting the use of “scabs” during a teachers’ strike (Chandler v. McMinnville School Dist., 978 F.2d 524 (9th Cir. 1992)
  • a T-shirt with a picture of the U.S. president and the words “International Terrorist” (Barber v. Dearborn Public Schools, 286 F.Supp.2d 847 (E.D. Mich. 2003)), or
  • a T-shirt supporting the National Rifle Association with an image of guns (Newsom v. Albemarle County School Bd., 354 F.3d 249 (4th Cir. 2003).
  • (emphasis ours)

As the kid had been wearing the mask for 4 weeks, it is difficult to say how the mask was causing or would cause a disruption at school. In fact, neither the teacher nor the principal mentions any disruption.

The principal tells the father that the mask is “offensive” and that’s not enough to ban it.

No teacher, principal or school district has the power to step on the rights of a student and that is what happened here.

For those who are wondering what is the difference between this case and the Food Lion / American “flag” case, there are several differences:

1) Food Lion is a private company and can ban (for the most part) whatever they want.
2) The teacher, the principal and the school district are government actors and are required to protect the First Amendment rights of their students – not trample upon them.
3) Our issue with the Food Lion case was the use of the flag as a mask itself. We thought then and think now that the use was disrespectful and contrary to what the wearer was saying of wanting to respect the flag.

People wonder why so many families have moved to homeschooling, private schools, charter schools, etc and away from traditional public schools.

This case is an example of why.

If you can’t give a child a reason as to why something that was acceptable and now is unacceptable, and your only response is “because I said so” while trampling on the rights of that student, no wonder people are running away in droves from public schools.



3 Responses to “Take Off The Mask, Kid.”

  1. Anon says:

    Interesting, locally I know of one student who was told they had to remove a tee shirt with a quote from the movie Sandlot that said “your killing me Smalls” because a teacher had never seen the movie and thought it was threatening and another instance were a citizen complained to the brevard county superintendent that they were offended by a teacher wearing a BLM facemask (supporting a radical political movement) and was told it was protected speech. Years ago CBHS took the musket out of the minutemen mascots hands and replaced it with a flag because someone was offended by the musket. It all seems a little arbitrary to me, like saying you have protected free speech as long as you say something we agree with, but if you don’t it’s not allowed. Middle and high school are tough enough and I suspect most parents would rather just let these intrusions on free speech slide rather than dragging their kids thru the social media trash heap. I guess that’s a little unfortunate, but understandable in these times.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Anon,

      Thanks for the comment.

      As to the tee-shirt, it is hard to see how the comment on the shirt is “threatening” anyone or was causing or would cause a disturbance. We would have talked to the teacher, explained the tee-shirt and moved on.

      The BLM mask is a little more tricky. Many government agencies restrict political statements being worn by employees as it implies a lack of equal service to the public. You can wear whatever political statement you want off site, but not on site. We were not able to find such a provision for the County Schools, but we have to wonder how the administration would act in response to a MAGA shirt, button, pin, mask, etc.

      However, according to the BPS Organizational Policies and Procedures which covers teachers and other employees:

      You may not solicit support for any political candidate during regular work hours or on school district property. Candidates for public office or their representatives are not permitted to solicit support during the employee’s regular work hours or on school district property.

      While BLM is not a “candidate,” it is hard not seeing the mask as a political statement as BLM supports candidates.

      In addition, the Student Handbook for Secondary Education states:

      Any clothing, accessories, symbols or regalia that convey membership or affiliation with a “gang” or other similarly oriented group or association prone to violence or criminal acts is prohibited.

      While BLM is not a traditional gang such as the Sharks and Jets from West Side Story, there is little doubt the group is associated with violence and criminal acts such as looting and rioting.

      The dress codes are arbitrary and often the people enforcing them don’t have a clue as to what is legally allowed. In addition, it seems too often the schools and other agencies say that the rules don’t apply to one group, but another.

      Thanks for the comment.

      A. Afterwit.

  2. […] blog of the day is Raised On Hoecakes, with a post on a kids’ controversial face […]

  3. Lebewski says:

    So Sad…send the helicopter for words without action.

top