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ACLU asks district to drop suspensions over memorial T-shirts

By The Associated Press
09.02.08

OMAHA, Neb. — The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has called on an Omaha school district to dismiss suspensions against 23 students who wore memorial T-shirts to class.

"Going back to school shouldn't mean sacrificing free speech rights at the schoolhouse door," Amy Miller of ACLU Nebraska said on Aug. 29.

Officials at Millard South High School have said the students violated the district's dress policy by wearing shirts honoring a slain friend. They said the shirts are disruptive.

The T-shirts bear the phrase "R-I-P Julius," honoring former classmate Julius Robinson, an 18-year-old who was shot to death last May. Two other 18-year-olds have been arrested in connection with the slaying, which authorities say was gang-related.

Miller says the district has the leeway to censor messages that are disruptive to learning, but the T-shirts don't fall into that category. Rather, she says, the shirts allow students to express grief.

"Now the school has heightened that loss by silencing any reference to their grief," Miller said.

Counselors are available to help the students deal with the loss of their classmate, an official with Millard Public Schools said.

Angelo Passarelli, the district's director of administrative affairs, said on Aug. 29 that 23 students had been suspended over three days last week.

He referred questions about the ACLU's request to the district's attorney, Duncan Young.

Young said the district wouldn't be able to comment further on the situation because it involved student discipline.

Miller said the ACLU would consider legal action if the district didn't dismiss the suspensions.


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