This Sixth-Grader's Breast Cancer Awareness Shirt Clearly Isn't 'Offensive.' So Why Did the School Make Him Cover It Up?

Blake Coil is trying to support his grandmother's cancer battle. The school doesn't like that his shirt says "tata."


Screenshot via KTVI

A 12-year-old elementary school student is doing his best to support his grandmother, who's currently fighting stage 3 breast cancer. But the school thinks his efforts are inappropriate.

Blake Coil is a sixth-grader at Roosevelt Elementary, a public school in Belleville, Illinois. Last week, he started wearing a "Hakuna Matata" sweatshirt to raise awareness for his grandmother's cancer battle. The phrase, which many people know as the title of a famous song in the 1994 animated film The Lion King, literally translates to "no worries" in Swahili.

But the school wasn't having it. The second day Blake wore the shirt, the principal approached him at lunchtime and asked him to lift up his jacket, says Blake's mom, Christie Coil. Principal Craig Hayes, who Coil says was alerted to the shirt by a school monitor, told Blake he had to cover the phrase up.

When Blake got home that day, he relayed what had happened to his mom, prompting her to call the school. Hayes told her something along the lines of "it was a little offensive for school because the tata is highlighted in pink," Coil tells Reason.

Coil wasn't happy. "So you made him zip it up so [Blake] didn't get to support his grandmother?" she says she asked Hayes. According to Coil, the principal told her he would take the issue up with the school board and the superintendent to see what they thought.

On Wednesday, Hayes called her back to say his position hadn't changed. He "told me that as much as they support Blake, they do not support him wearing the shirt to school because of the tata part," Coil says. "I asked for the reasoning in that, and he told me it was a slang word for breast."

A statement from Belleville Public Schools District # 118 noted that the district "does not discuss individual student matters."

"However, the District can state its policies promote conduct and attire that minimize disruptions and support a positive educational environment," the statement continued.

But Coil fails to see how the school's decision makes sense. She even searched the school handbook to see if Blake, who she describes as "always want[ing] to help somebody," was violating any rules. "It's not offensive, and it's not violent," she says, adding that the shirt is simply about raising awareness.

The school had no problem handing out breast cancer awareness bracelets over a two-year period back when the school secretary was fighting the disease, she notes. And Blake's sister, who's just 4 years old, "can wear it to her school," Coil adds.

In short, Blake is being punished because there's a slight possibility some elementary school students might make an immature joke or two. Coil says she hasn't let her son wear the shirt to school again, but that's going to change next week. "He's wearing it Monday," she says.

This post has been updated with a statement from the school district.

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  1. who Coil says was alerted to the shirt by a school monitor

    Who will be an intern in Washington by the age of 20, and go on to run for Senate and enjoy a long, lucrative career in public service.

  2. Snitches get stitches.

  3. So the racist school is discriminating against a large and successful Indian car company?
    How can that be?

  4. A 6th grade boy + tata reference = commenter, that’s why

    1. You just know that Setyon is the type who thinks he should be permitted to sodomize a 12 year old boy.

      1. You really jumped that one up a lot there.

        1. Yeah – that escalated quickly.

  5. It’s an ironic sort of sense that backwards it’s ATAT.

  6. This is a good opportunity for the Breast Cancer Awareness industry to address its problematic messaging. Because depending on how you read it, the ‘tatas’ part is… kind of the point.

    1. It does make an interesting question – sort of like wearing a “Fuck Cancer” shirt to school. I could see how a school official would have a dilemma around “why can’t you support your grandmother’s fight against cancer in a way that isn’t deliberately crass?”

      Yet another argument in favor of school choice – in a voluntary system this just wouldn’t be an issue.

    2. Obviously. It is a derivative of their “save the tatas” slogan.

    3. What the school is saying is that if the shirt had the word ‘breast’ on it, even in the context of ‘breast cancer’, they wouldn’t allow that either which is perhaps the more interesting bit.

      1. The kid’s lucky he wasn’t tased and beaten by the school resource officer. Reason should consider this a win.

  7. Clearly gender discrimination. If he identified as a girl, like his sister, no one would bat an eye at the shirt.

    1. “like his sister”??? What makes you think she doesn’t identify as a boy?

      1. Hey, hey these are middle school kids here.

        That’s a little early to be assigning gender roles isn’t it?

      2. What if she identifies as a helicopter and insists on wearing a propeller beanie?

  8. Schools don’t care. About anything. They go through the motions and the people there pick up paychecks and take summers off.

    They’re against anything that might cause a ripple in that. They want students to fulfill their role as the product, like ranchers and their cattle. Ranchers don’t need an animal that won’t follow the herd. School officials don’t either.

    The question is: why would we voluntarily subject our children to an institution like that?

    1. The answer is that some of us didn’t.

    2. why would we voluntarily subject our children to an institution like that?

      Because it’s the law?

    3. It prepares them for working at a large corporation.

    4. The question is: why would we voluntarily subject our children to an institution like that?

      It’s only nominally voluntary, for most people it’s mandatory.

      It’s why every totalitarian regime has ‘youth’ programs as well. It’s propaganda, pure and simple, and it works best when the target is young.

      Note how little time public schools focus on civics, government, and economics which are some of the most important things you can teach young people to prepare them for contact with society. It’s also one reason why young people are so emotionally unprepared for the rigor of college.

  9. Obvious the school admins are a bunch of clueless statists, but, raising “Awareness” about breast cancer has as much chance as coming up with a cure as I have of dating Kate Upton.

    You’re more likely to come up with a cure form the spinoff’s form Musk’s Mars plans, so maybe create some awareness about that.

    1. raising “Awareness” about breast cancer has as much chance as coming up with a cure as I have of dating Kate Upton

      Yeah – that, too. We’ve elevated “raising awareness” to a much more significant action than it really is. Hard to say what he’s accomplishing by calling a bunch of 11-year-old kids’ attention to breast cancer, especially when it’s pretty likely they’ve already heard of it.

      1. I think future historians of religion will look back on our culture and maintain that the most important element of our belief system is faith in the existence of “ignorant masses” who don’t have any awareness of breast cancer, AIDS, racism, sexism, and climate change.

        1. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  10. School uniforms. Problem solved.

    1. Exactly.

  11. Slight possibility? The immature joke is an intentional ploy for attention. An effective one.

    1. Children would never use an untouchable cause to sneak in crass jokes to spite school regulations. Especially not adolescents.

  12. Cultural appropriation alert.

    1. It’s funny, but when I first started reading, I honestly thought that’s where it was going.

      1. Well, The Lion King is hella problematic.

  13. Come on, it’s not like the kid bit a Pop-Tart into the shape of a ta ta.

    He didn’t, did he?

    1. I just know that I probably will, once I get home today.

  14. Just wondering, don’t have kids…. So, if the boy goes ahead and wears the shirt on Monday, what can the school officials do about it? Can they physically remove the boy, or would that require the police?

    1. He could be sent home and suspended and not allowed to return to school until the matter is resolved.

      Could go to litigation though courts are usually deferential to the school’s position.

      1. Thanks for the response… one more… so if he refuses to remove or cover the shirt on Monday, would it be the police or is a school official permitted to physically remove a student for simple noncompliance?

        1. I’m guessing that you are from the “sit in” generation, amIright?

          1. Well, not quite that old, but it’s been a while since my school days… I’m just confused about his mother claiming she’s going to have him wear it anyway… if the result will simply be his physical removal or arrest, what does that accomplish. If they can’t actually physically touch him, then fuck the school, I’d have him wear it too.

            1. Think I understand a little more clearly now what you mean.

              If the kid refused to comply and change his shirt the school definitely has options, they wouldn’t phsyically remove it for him but if one of the kid’s parents arrived and both kid and parent were still being completely intransigent then the cops would likely be called and they would be physically removed since they are now disrupting the smooth running and educational mission of the school. So yeah, in those circumstances force would be used.

        2. If he refused to comply the school, most likely the Principal, would contact his parents and require them to come to the school and pick up their son at the school’s office and take him home and also inform them that he is not allowed to return until he complies with school’s decision.

          The school wouldn’t physically remove him and it’s unlikely the cops would be involved but I guess the school would forbid the boy from returning to his class and maybe place him in ISS until a parent arrives. Then each party will have to decide how to proceed. If both parties can’t resolve the problem then it could go to litigation but courts generally defer to the school’s position.

          Our kids’ schools have fairly strict regulations on what types of clothing is forbidden.

          1. …thanks for the info

    2. The short answer is: MAY school official use force to move or remove a disobedient child? Yes. WOULD they? No. They would cover their asses by calling the police to do it.

  15. I’d love to hear that Craig Hayes died of breast cancer that metastasized to his brain.

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