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T-shirt forces dress code change

South Florida Sun Sentinal | Apr 24 2005

There's nothing offensive about calling a president a terrorist, even in public school.

That was the lesson imparted by Justin Cambest, who last fall wore a T-shirt to high school emblazoned with a photo of President Bush and the caption, "International Terrorist."

The case got Cambest in trouble, caused the American Civil Liberties Union to threaten a lawsuit, and led to a change in Broward's school dress code.

The flap began on Oct. 26, when Cambest appeared at Nova High School in Davie wearing the black-and-red shirt. Though he had worn it a dozen times before without incident, two students and a staff member complained about the senior's attire. A teacher also criticized him before classmates.

"I was shocked that they would try to do something like that," said Cambest, 18. "I was proclaiming my political view. It should be allowed."

Citing the dress code that prohibits clothing deemed "offensive to others," administrators demanded Cambest remove the shirt, turn it inside out or face suspension. The teen opted to turn the shirt inside out.

So he contacted the ACLU.

That group sent a letter to School Board attorneys in December asking that the "offensive" provision be removed from the dress code and that Cambest be spared any disciplinary action. Prohibiting attire expressing a political opinion violated the student's rights, ACLU lawyers said.

"It would fall under freedom of expression as to political speech," said Zeina Salam, the Fort Lauderdale attorney representing Cambest for the civil rights group. "The U.S. Supreme Court said students do not shed their constitutional right to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

The dress code's ban on offensive clothing was overly broad and subjective, Salam continued.

The School Board agreed. In February, it passed on first reading a measure striking the "offensive" phrase. Tuesday, the board is expected to pass the measure on final reading.










 




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