RAPID CITY, S.D. Two Rapid City high school students who showed up to school wearing T-shirts advocating passage of South Dakota's medical-marijuana ballot issue have had those shirts confiscated.
A security guard told the two Stevens High School seniors to remove the shirts as they went to their first class on Oct. 20. The principal, Katie Bray, confiscated the shirts.
The students, David Valenzuela, 17, and Chris Fuentes, 18, said the confiscation violated their rights to political free speech.
But Peter Wharton, Rapid City superintendent, said it had nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with violating a policy forbidding clothing that displays images of alcohol, drugs or tobacco products on school grounds.
"Unequivocally, no. It had nothing to do with political speech," he said.
The green T-shirts featured an image of a marijuana leaf and the message "Vote Yes on Initiated Measure 4."
Students can wear political T-shirts as long as administrators determine the clothing is appropriate, Wharton said.
Some have worn T-shirts urging passage of South Dakota's abortion ban.
"We had been seeing all these abortion shirts at school, and we thought, OK, I guess we can get political," Valenzuela said.
The wording on Valenzuela's and Fuentes' T-shirts is allowed but the image of the marijuana leaf is not, Wharton said. Any student can advocate for passing the medical-marijuana measure as long as a drug insignia is not used, he said. "Advocate to your heart's content, but don't use a marijuana leaf to do it. It's against school policy."
Valenzuela said the action was unfair. "We're trying to get our viewpoint out and tell people what it (Initiated Measure 4) is, and we can't. We're just trying to spread Measure 4."
The picture of the marijuana leaf should be protected as political speech, said Valenzuela, who added that he was campaigning for a ballot issue, not promoting the use of an illegal drug.
"That's absurd," Wharton said. "I'm not even going to dignify that argument with a response."
Principal Bray returned the shirts to the students at the end of the school day. Valenzuela said she threatened them with suspension from school if they wore the shirts to class again.
"We were afraid of being expelled," he said.
"Then, I would have gotten involved," said Christine Horan, Valenzuela's mother. She said she supported her son's decision to wear the shirt but made him wear another shirt underneath it, just in case.