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Oregon district pays $25,000, issues apology to settle lawsuit over student's pro-Trump T-shirt

July 26, 2018
A student at a high school in Hillsboro, Ore., was suspended after being told he couldn't wear a shirt that expressed support for a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.

An Oregon school district must pay $25,000 and issue an apology to a former high school student who sued over his right to wear a shirt that expressed support for President Donald Trump.

The Portland Oregonian reports that Addison Barnes, who graduated last month from Liberty High School in Hillsboro, Ore., was suspended from school in January for wearing a shirt that read "Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Co.'' in support of proposals to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.

The student was told to go home or cover up the message on his shirt. Barnes subsequently sued the high school, Principal Greg Timmons and the Hillsboro School District, contending that they violated his First Amendment rights.

In late May, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order that said the school couldn't stop Barnes from wearing the shirt.

Barnes' lawyers they reached a settlement with the district: Timmons will issue a letter of apology, and the district will pay $25,000 for Barnes' attorney fees.

"I brought this case to stand up for myself and other students who might be afraid to express their right-of-center views,'' Barnes says. "Everyone knows that if a student wears an anti-Trump shirt to school, the teachers won't think twice about it. But when I wore a pro-Trump shirt, I got suspended. That's not right.''

School district officials said in a statement that courts have ruled differently in similar cases, leaving students' First Amendment rights in school a "gray area." They say they decided to settle the T-shirt case "given the cost and disruption of litigation."

School officials had argued in court that the shirt would contribute to a "hostile learning environment'' and would make students feel insecure in school. They also said the school had been the site of recent student walkouts and sit-ins to protest Trump's immigration policies.

The district described increased racial tensions arising from racially charged language around immigration, school officials said.

But U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman found the school district couldn't justify its censorship. The judge said he balanced constitutionally protected speech with the orderly running of a school.

Although the Hillsboro district is entitled to be concerned about the response of other students to the T-shirt, the judge said, the district had provided insufficient evidence for the its argument that the shirt could "substantially disrupt'' the school.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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