Student told to remove shirt protesting racism sues school

A Wabash County student is suing his high school after an incident earlier this year when he was told by school officials to remove his shirt protesting systemic racism.

In a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, D.E., a student at Manchester Jr.-Sr. High School in North Manchester, claims that his First Amendment rights were violated in August when he was forced to leave school after refusing to remove a T-shirt that read, “I hope I don’t get killed for being Black today.”

“As a young Black man, D.E. is acutely aware of the many incidents where young Black men have been fatally shot by law enforcement officers. Following the heightened awareness and many protests against police violence over the summer, D.E. chose to wear the shirt to school as a way to protest the systemic racism that is behind these shootings and to personalize the issue to his classmates and school,” the ACLU of Indiana said in a press release.

After someone allegedly complained about it, D.E. was informed that he had to change his shirt and that he could not wear it in school, even though it did not violate any of the rules in the school’s Student Handbook and had not caused any disruption among his fellow students, the filing says.

“D.E. felt very strongly that he had the right to wear the shirt and to impart the information on the t-shirt to students and staff at the school. He therefore refused to change the t-shirt and instead called his mother,” the filing says. After she picked him up, D.E. was removed from school for the remainder of the day.

The filing also asserts that students at the school regularly wear “Blue Lives Matter” and “MAGA” apparel supporting police and President Donald Trump, respectively, and that some students wear apparel depicting Confederate flags.

D.E., who has been subjected to racial epithets in the school in the past from fellow students, said in the filing “he believes that the message of the t-shirt is an important one to transmit to students and staff and that the t-shirt makes an extremely important statement.”

“Schools cannot selectively choose which social issues students can support through messages on their clothing,” said Ken Falk, legal director of ACLU of Indiana. “Students do not lose their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse doors. The refusal of the school to allow D.E. to wear his t-shirt is a violation of his right to free speech.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. The matter is D.E., et al. v. Dr Jon Lippe, et al., 3:20-cv-977.

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