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Judge sides with FWCS on boobies bracelet ban

Says maturity levels at school affect meaning

When a male student wearing an “I (heart) boobies” bracelet began harassing female students at North Side High School, Fort Wayne Community Schools administrators drew the line.

Wearing the bracelet, the student would repeat its slogan to girls, and the district banned the little rubber bangles from the arms of students at the school.

Three months later, a then-sophomore girl, identified in court documents as J.A., began wearing the bracelet, knowing they were banned. By March 2012, school administrators took her bracelet away and a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU.

The girl argued that the bracelet, and the right to wear it, was protected as free speech under the Constitution. The girl’s mother was a breast cancer survivor, and the bracelet was worn to raise awareness and show support.

School officials, though, argued the bracelets were in the same vein as others they confiscated that suggested students “(expletive deleted) off” or ask about each other’s sex organs. The bracelets were worn merely for the students to find another reason to say the word “boobies,” which apparently they did not need, according to court documents.

At a hearing in June, the girl’s attorneys argued the school’s ban on the bracelets was unconstitutional and asked U.S. District Judge Joseph VanBokkelen to prevent enforcement of the ban.

After nearly two months’ deliberation, the judge ruled Tuesday that Fort Wayne Community Schools administrators could enforce the ban at North Side High School.

The judge’s ruling came a day after he agreed to consider a case from the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania. The recent higher court ruling found, in a split decision, it was unreasonable to interpret the bracelet’s message as vulgar.

In his ruling, VanBokkelen took issue with the plaintiff’s argument that high school students are mature enough to be exposed to the slogan on the bracelets.

“Yet high school is not a magical place where students leave behind a sexually charged middle school environment and automatically become mature adults,” VanBokkelen wrote.

“The evidence in the record reveals a low maturity level at the school. … The school could therefore reasonably conclude that the bracelet contained sexual innuendo that was vulgar within the context of North Side High School.”

And, VanBokkelen wrote, it wasn’t just middle school students who found the bracelets’ slogan sexually suggestive.

“The ‘Keep a Breast Foundation’ has denied requests from ‘truck stops, … vending machine companies, and pornographers to sell the bracelet,’ ” he wrote. “Clearly, the breast cancer awareness message does not eliminate the vulgar meaning behind ‘I (heart) boobies.’ ”

FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said the district is pleased with the court’s decision, always believing their actions were appropriate.

Indiana ACLU legal director Ken Falk said they were disappointed with the ruling, which ends the case, and had not determined whether they would appeal the decision.

rgreen@jg.net

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