Yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a California high school’s prohibition on American flag t-shirts on Cinco de Mayo. The case is Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District, and while it might get the law right, it certainly highlights a worrying trend in American schools: the inability or unwillingness to protect students whose speech is unpopular.
On Cinco de Mayo, May 5, 2010, three students wore American flag t-shirts to Live Oak High School. Live Oak, according to the Ninth Circuit, had a history of gang and racial violence. The students who wore the American flag t-shirts were threatened with physical violence. Rather than discipline the students who made the threats, the school decided to tell the American flag t-shirt-wearing students that they could either turn their shirts inside-out, or go home. Two of the students went home, and the students collectively sued the school district in federal district court, claiming that the school violated their First Amendment rights.
Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit upheld the dismissal of the students’ claim, on the grounds that school officials “anticipated violence or substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities, and their response was tailored to the circumstances.”