New York City public schools will allow students to wear clothes with political slogans after settling a lawsuit with a teenage girl who was suspended for wearing a T-shirt that said “Barbie is a Lesbian,” her lawyer said on Thursday. “Students in the nation’s largest school district will now have the First Amendment right to wear T-shirts and armbands that express controversial political views,” attorney Ronald Kuby said.
Some 1.1 million students attend New York City public schools.
The city also agreed to pay $30,000 to Kuby’s client, 15-year-old Natalie Young, a lesbian who was sent to the principal’s office in April 2002 when she showed up at her school in the Queens borough wearing her “Barbie is a Lesbian” T-shirt.
She refused to change and was suspended for the day and threatened with further suspension if she wore it again.
Her mother sued the city over her right to express her views.
“I felt there was nothing wrong with it,” Young said as she held up the T-shirt during a news conference.
Kuby said the school system also agreed to require teachers and administrators to undergo sensitivity training to improve relations with gay and lesbian students.
He said the New York City School Department, which lacked a written policy concerning student dress, agreed to adopt one that conforms to federal Education Department policy and U.S. Supreme Court rulings on student expression.
“Students don’t have the full set of First Amendment rights in an educational setting, but they do have substantial rights,” he said.
The new policy states that students have the right to “wear political or other types of buttons, badges or armbands, except where such material is libelous, obscene” or disrupts the school or leads to disorder or invades the rights of others.
The policy also bans dress that is “dangerous or interferes with the learning or teaching process.”