HOWARD CITY, Mich. (WOOD) — A family of two Tri County School District students filed a lawsuit Tuesday that alleged the students’ First and 14th amendment rights were violated last school year.
In February and May of 2022, three students in total were told their sweatshirts, which had the phrase ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ printed across them, violated the district’s dress code policy. The students were told to remove their attire and were informed they could not wear the apparel to school in the future.
The district’s policy prohibits “attire with messages or illustrations that are lewd, indecent, vulgar or profane.”
The phrase ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ is considered a joke among Trump supporters. It replaces a vulgar statement about President Biden.
Conor Fitzpatrick, an attorney with the Foundation for Induvial Rights and Expression, represents the family of the two students who filed the suit. He said that the phrase itself is not profane and therefore the district and its employees had no grounds to prohibit such attire.
“If the students had shown up to school using the F word or with a sweatshirt with the actual F word on it, then the students wouldn’t have been allowed to wear that,” he said. “The problem here is that the school district is saying, ‘Not only can we stop you from swearing in schools, we can stop you from wearing something that makes people even think about a swear word.’ And that’s what the First amendment doesn’t allow.”
News 8 reached out to the firm that represents the district, which declined an interview request. However, the school responded and told News 8 it is aware of the complaint. In an email, the school said it has, “no comment at this time regarding pending litigation or matters that involve students of the district due to federal privacy laws and Board Policy.”
Fitzpatrick cited Tinker vs. Des Moines in the filing, which was a 1969 case that ruled students have a right to freedom of expression in school as long as their behavior isn’t disruptive.
“That was a case about kids who wore black arm bands to school to protest the Vietnam War,” he said. “The court held that as long as the students aren’t being destructive and they just wish to express their political beliefs peacefully in school, the First amendment allows them to do that and prevents the government from trying to suppress their speech. It’s the same here.”
Since the February and May incidents, the lawsuit claims a student was also targeted for wearing a pro-Trump campaign flag during a field day in June and told the garment was prohibited. Fitzpatrick and the students whom he represent said that other students who wore pride flags were not asked to remove the apparel.
“Students have every right to wear LGBT attire to school and in the same way our clients have the right to wear ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ attire to school,” he said. “What the school district isn’t allowed to do under the First amendment is to play favorites. … To say some students are allowed to express their beliefs, but (other) students aren’t allowed to express different beliefs.”
The district continues to reject the demand to issue a public statement and amend its dress policy. While Fitzpatrick wants a court order that will allow students to wear ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ apparel in school and a declaration from the court that the school district did violate his clients rights.