Educators have expressed their disapproval on the US Supreme Court’s rejection to hear an appeal in the Pennsylvania school district case on Monday. Educators said that this had weakened their stance to create a healthy environment for students and decide what is in the best of their interests during their learning years.
Principal of private school in Toms River, NJ, New Dimensions Academy Shaheen Farrukh said that this case would now become an example for other students to stand up against their schools. She said that schools are meant to teach young adults the difference between right and wrong and help them “balance out matters of life that can be considered as grey areas”.
“It becomes very hard as a teacher to expect your students to respect you when they know they can take you to court whenever they want and probably win it,” she said. “I am disappointed. I know kids in my school are talking about the case too. Of course, for them, it’s a matter of glory,” she added.
Valarie Kartel, an elementary grade teacher, said that she had been shocked to learn that the court had not allowed for the case to be heard, thereby letting the earlier decision stand in favor of the students. “In my school days, teachers could punish you for something as small as misbehaving in class and parents never even minded that. And now parents of 12-and-13-year-olds are supporting their children to go to court against their school. How times have changed!” she exclaimed.
Mona Adam, a middle school teacher, said she was indecisive on the matter. “I have been teaching middle school kids for almost seven years now, so I can understand their point of view. Maybe the school shouldn’t have been so harsh as to suspend them. They could have been given detentions. I think the whole matter was blown out of proportion.”
Nevertheless, she goes on to say that taking the matter to court was also another extreme. “I did not know of this case until I overheard a teacher talk about it earlier in the day, so maybe I am missing a lot of information. But I know from my conversations with other teachers that many of them disapprove of the court’s decision,” she added.
The educators have voiced similar opinions to that of the Easton area school board who also said they were “disappointed”. The decision, according to a statement released by the school district to US media in 2013, “robs educators and school boards of the ability to strike a reasonable balance between a student’s right to creative expression and school’s obligation to maintain an environment focused on education and free from sexual entendre and vulgarity”.
Father of three boys, Victor Neil, is happy with the decision of the court. “The girls (Hawk and Martinez) had good intentions. They were supporting a good cause. We do not live in the Middle Ages, where the word ‘boobies’ is frowned upon anymore. It’s a human anatomy; a part of our body just like hands and lips. Teens can be really mature and should not be considered impertinent all the time. I know. I have three at home.”
The case started in 2010, when two girls, Brianna Hawk and Kayla Martinez, then ages 12 and 13, challenged their middle school’s ban on the bracelets, which are designed to promote breast cancer awareness among young people.
A day before the Easton school had commemorated Breast Cancer Awareness month, the use of the ‘I (heart) boobies bracelets had been banned as several teachers had been concerned with the sexual innuendo it had presented. However, on the Awareness day, Hawk and Martinez had not only worn the bracelets but had refused to remove them, citing freedom of speech, which had led to them receiving an in-school suspension. They had also been barred from attending the school’s Winter Ball.
Following this decision of the school, the two girls, through their mothers, had sued the school, with the case heading to District Court and then a federal appeals court. The lower courts had ruled in favor of the two students. The school, which has reportedly spent $107,000 pursuing the case, with an insurance policy paying most of those costs, had decided to appeal to the US Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case on Monday, thus effectively ending the Easton school district’s legal fight and granting a victory to the two girls and their parents.
By Faryal Najeeb