T-shirts prompt Forks High School students' suspensions
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Protesting along South Forks Avenue are, from left, Shelby Sherrill, Devin Chastain, Denay Roberts, Alvina Carter, Manito Sanchez, Esperanza Morales, Nicole Wade, Aaron Adams and Alec Rockseth. -- Lonnie Archibald/for Peninsula Daily News

By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

FORKS -- Several Forks High School students were suspended Tuesday after wearing shirts with the band name Sex Pistols across the front.

The administration suspended the students after they passed out the T-shirts just before class started, causing an uproar, Superintendent Diana Reaume said.

"Because of the nature of what was on the shirts and the way in which they were distributed and how that was causing a disruption -- that is when the administration took action," Reaume said.

After they were suspended, nine students staged a protest with signs in front of the school.

Senior Devin Chastain, who was student body president last year, said that the T-shirts were distributed Tuesday in protest of her having been sent home Monday for wearing a Sex Pistols shirt.

Chastain said a friend of hers was wearing the shirt Monday and was told to change. When she did, Chastain put the shirt on and refused to remove it, she said.

"I'm suspended for three days for making a peaceful protest," Chastain said.

"Sex Pistols is not a sexual innuendo. It is a homage to an important band."

Reaume said she couldn't speak about specific students and their punishments.

The student handbook prohibits students from wearing clothing with sexual references on them.

Number suspended

The students said that about 25 students were suspended Tuesday, while Reaume said that number was about 10 to 12.

The specific number was not available because the report by the high school administrators was not ready Tuesday night, Reaume said.

Chastain said she was protesting what she believes is a violation of her First Amendment right to free speech.

After she and the others were suspended, nine of them gathered to form a protest with signs against their suspension during the lunch hour.

"We had about 40 cars honk for our sign that said 'Honk to save your constitutional rights,'" Chastain said.

Chastain wouldn't name the original student with the shirt because she wasn't part of the protest Tuesday and didn't want to be involved.

Disruption

Reaume said that while the term Sex Pistols was not allowable per the student handbook, the problem was more the disruption caused by the protest.

She said the term was not allowed even though it is also the name of a 1970s punk rock band.

"The actions of the administration was responding more to the disruption than to what was written on the T-shirts," Reaume said.

The students were given the option to surrender the T-shirts and stay in school or to be suspended.

The punishment was done on a "matrix" basis, Reaume said.

Students who had previous disciplinary action received more days suspension than those with no prior problems, she said.

The matrix determined the length of the suspensions rather than the students' roles in the protest, Reaume said.

Cited court case

Denay Roberts, a senior and one of the protestors, cited the Tinker v. Des Moines case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that students retain their rights in school.

The court opinion stated: "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years."

She said that when she quoted the court opinion to school officials, it was ignored.

"I was basically laughed at," she said.

"I did a lot of research last night, and I know my rights."

Roberts, Chastain and another friend, Alvina Carter, a junior, all said that the words on the T-shirts are not a sexual reference.

"It is the name of a band -- people wear Bob Marley and Lil' Wayne shirts -- I don't know why we can't wear Sex Pistols shirts," Carter said.

The three said that their protest was less for love of the band than for principle.

Chastain's mother, Staci Chastain, said she supported her daughter.

"Most of us parents are wondering if it is really that important, but if they want to fight for their rights, we are behind them," she said.

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 10. 2010 12:07AM
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