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Teen sues FWCS to wear 'boobies' bracelet

A controversy surrounding the word "boobies" has finally landed in Allen County.

A teenage girl and her mother are suing the superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools because the student had a bracelet with the words "I (heart) boobies" taken away from her by an assistant principal this year.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday, alleges that the school infringed on the girl's First Amendment right of freedom of speech by taking the bracelet away.

Neither the girl nor the school within the district is named in the suit.

The girl's mother is identified as Julie Andrzejewski, a breast cancer survivor who bought the bracelet for her daughter, making it important to the girl.

Made by Keep A Breast, a non-profit organization that touts its mission as the eradication of breast cancer, the "I (heart) boobies" bracelets along with other items inscribed with the phrase have caught the eyes of school officials around the country.

And as more and more schools have either banned the items or confiscated them, more and more lawsuits have been filed by the ACLU.

This year an eighth-grade boy's father sued the Monticello school district when school officials forced the student to turn his bracelet inside out, so only the address for Keep A Breast's website could be seen.

The new lawsuit, filed against FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson, follows a similar chain of events:

The girl, a sophomore in high school, wore the bracelet for months without incident until it was confiscated in March, according to the lawsuit.

School officials then informed the girl she could no longer wear the bracelet and at some point gave it back to her.

The lawsuit also alleges that school officials have cut the bracelets off other students.

According to the lawsuit, the bracelets do not break any of the school district's rules issued in student handbooks – including rules outlawing sexually suggestive phrases or obscenities on clothes or attire that disrupts the classroom.

District officials would not comment on the lawsuit. But Krista Stockman, district spokeswoman, said schools in the district do not have a universal dress code and that the bracelets have been discussed.

The lawsuit argues that the girl "believes that the bracelet serves an important function in assisting with breast cancer health with financial support."

The girl and her mother are seeking permission to wear the bracelet at school as well as lawyer fees, according to the lawsuit.

Typically, the bracelets sell from $2 to $5.

According to the Keep A Breast website, "100 percent of the net proceeds from the wholesale sale of all items are donated to the Keep A Breast Foundation, a worldwide non-profit organization (sic)."

Created in 2000, the organization's mission is "to help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support."

Some critics of the organization and similar campaigns that use slang terms for breasts argue the terminology sexualizes women and detracts from what's really important – the disease itself.

"Revolving the message around saving them (breasts), rather than lives, only reinforces the idea that breasts are intimately linked with beauty," wrote Katie Ford Hull last year on her website, www.uneasypink.com.

Officials with Keep A Breast Foundation could not be reached for comment Monday.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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