EASTON, Pennsylvania (AP) - A free-speech case involving a Pennsylvania middle school principal, Breast Cancer Awareness Day and a pair of rubber "I (heart) Boobies!" bracelets may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Easton, Pa., school board late Tuesday voted to challenge a federal court's decision saying the bracelets aren't lewd material.
"I think what this case is really about is: Who should be able to decide what is or is not lewd or improper expression in the context of a public school," said the school district's attorney, John E. Freund (III),.
The case started in 2010 when two girls, then ages 12 and 13, challenged the school's ban on the bracelets, which are designed to promote breast cancer awareness among young people. The students, Brianna Hawk and Kayla Martinez, said they merely hoped to foster knowledge of the disease at their middle school. They filed suit when they were suspended for defying the ban on Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
Kimmy McAtee, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Keep A Breast Foundation of California, which distributed the bracelets, said the items are "a great conversation starter and ... that the school should have created a conversation about breast health vs. banning them."
But Freund said it was "never, ever the intent of the district" to stifle the students' viewpoint. "It was the intent of the district to enforce their dress policy." He said the policy aims to discourage "the sexualization of clothing and attire and to keep kids focused on learning."
Principal Angela DiVietro, herself a breast cancer survivor, acted appropriately, he said. The bracelets represented "a trivializing" of a serious issue for her and other survivors. "These kinds of cutesy appeals trivialize their experience," he said.
In August, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a lower court's decision in favor of the girls, saying that the district didn't prove the bracelets are disruptive.
But Freund said today that the court in essence took away the district's right to enforce its own policy. DiVietro had decided, he said, that "I (heart) Boobies" was "a sexual double entendre which was prohibited under the school's dress policy."
"The focus of the principal was that this really suggested a prurient interest in the female breast, which is an interest that does not have to be encouraged among seventh-grade boys," he said.
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