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WCSD settles suit over student wearing pro-gun shirts

(KOLO)
Published: Apr. 25, 2018 at 1:49 AM PDT
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UPDATE:

The Washoe County School District and lawyers for a student have reached a settlement in a First Amendment case.

The case arose when a student, on two occasions, wore pro-gun t-shirts to school. A teacher, following what the district says is an outdated dress code, instructed the student to cover the shirts. The district says the incidents were not reported to the school principal or district administration.

Instead, the student filed a federal complaint against WCSD and the school principal, alleging the district violated his First Amendment rights. According to the district, the filing of the federal complaint was the first time WCSD and the school administration had been informed of the complaint.

According to a WCSD statement, "Within days of receiving the complaint, the WCSD took immediate action by permitting the student to wear the shirt and updating school dress codes to ensure the incident is not repeated. The named principal in the complaint, Ms. Joye Ancina, was voluntarily removed from the lawsuit by plaintiffs, who acknowledged that she had no involvement in the incident. The remainder of the case was resolved through a stipulated judgment and dismissal of WCSD and payment of a portion of plaintiffs’ legal fees."

“We believe that Washoe County School District’s immediate corrective response once it received notice of the First Amendment concern reflects its ongoing commitment to foster an educational environment that respects the cultural diversity of the various communities within the District,” said Neil Rombardo, Chief General Counsel for the Washoe County School District. “Washoe County School District and its staff understand the importance of individual student expression, and we encourage families to communicate with their school administration if they believe staff has infringed on those rights.”

“Our clients are pleased with Washoe County School District’s quick response to remedy the issues in our Complaint,” said the plaintiffs’ counsel, Steve Duvernay of Benbrook Law Group. “The resolution of this matter evidences Washoe County School District’s commitment to support the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech and expression for all members of its community."

ORIGINAL STORY:

An eighth-grade student is suing the Washoe County School District, claiming he was punished for wearing pro-gun shirts to school.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, April 24, 2018, claims the student's First Amendment rights were violated and his political speech suppressed when he was told on two occasions to cover up shirts with pro-Second Amendment messages.

According to the complaint, the first incident happened November 20, 2017, when the student, only identified as G.M. was punished for wearing a shirt promoting the local business Sparks Black Rifle. The shirt has a picture of a rifle under the store's name. The school district's dress code prohibits depictions of "anything that promotes weapons".

The complaint says G.M. was told by his teacher the shirt violated the dress code because of the depiction of the rifle. He was told to cover up the shirt and he allegedly wore a sweatshirt for the remainder of the day.

March 12, 2018, G.M. wore a shirt with the words, 'Don't Tread On Me' surrounded by references to the Second Amendment. The complaint notes there are no weapons on the shirt, but G.M. was told by the same teacher that his shirt violated the dress code.

"Public schools may not violate the civil rights of pro-gun rights students because they don't like the Second Amendment or people who support the fundamental, individual human right to armed self-defense," said Firearms Policy Coalition President Brandon Combs.

According to the complaint, G.M. told his teacher it was his right to express himself through how he dressed, and the teacher replied he could have his “Second Amendment rights when he turns eighteen”.

“The First Amendment violation is all the more apparent where, as alleged here, school administrators suppress unpopular speech while allowing more politically-correct speech,” said Bradley Benbrook, counsel for the plaintiff.

Benbrook is referencing school walkouts across the district where students left class to protest for stricter gun laws.

KOLO 8 News Now has not been given a statement from the district on the lawsuit, but according to its handbook, the dress code is “in no such way an attempt to silence free expression, but to create a productive, uninterrupted and safe learning environment.

The full complaint can be found