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Free Lance-Star reporter Amy Umble covers Stafford County schools and other education issues

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ACLU sends Colonial Forge a letter about “Banana man”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today sent Colonial Forge High School Principal Karen Spillman a letter asking her to respect students’ constitutional right to free speech. You can read it here.

The letter by ACLU Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg says the ACLU has heard reports that Colonial Forge has banned the wearing of apparel showing support for Bryan Thompson, who was suspended after running onto the Stafford County school’s football field last Friday in a banana costume.  Glenberg writes that if the reports are accurate, the school’s actions appear to violate the First Amendment.

“Based on our understanding of the facts, it appears that some students at your school have strong feelings about the discipline of a fellow student, and that they have chosen to express those feelings in a passive, non-disruptive manner,” Glenberg wrote.  “We ask that you respect their constitutional right to free speech.”

In a story today, a school spokeswoman said a couple Colonial Forge students had their yellow shirts confiscated after whipping them around in the school. Glenberg wrote that “if this behavior took place in the classroom, and was disruptive, certainly there are some grounds for discipline.  But prohibiting students from merely wearing t-shirts expressing a particular opinion is unconstitutional.”

A parent emailed The Free Lance-Star yesterday evening to report that his daughter had a T-shirt confiscated. It was yellow and had “Free banana man” written on it.

UPDATE:

I recently spoke with Colonial Forge freshman Tirzah Rao, who said an assistant principal made her change shirts Wednesday and Today.

On Wednesday, she had a “Free the banana man” shirt confiscated, she said. She said an assistant principal told her the shirt was disruptive to the school and disrespectful to administrators.

Today, she wore a yellow shirt reading “Free speech.” The same assistant principal again made her change into a different shirt, she said.

“I just thought that was ridiculous,” Tirzah said.

Read tomorrow’s Free Lance-Star and check back at this blog for more information.

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/chalkboard/2011/09/22/aclu-sends-colonial-forge-a-letter-about-banana-man/