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Volokh Conspiracy

School District Provides $25K + Apology to Student Barred from Wearing "Trump Border Wall" T-Shirt

A follow-up to the May federal court decision holding that the school district's actions violated the First Amendment.


Liberty High School in Oregon barred student Addison Barnes from wearing this T-shirt to school, but in May a federal district judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring the school to allow the shirt. Now, Barnes' lawyer Bradley Benbrook (whom I've worked with before) reports that the school district has settled, providing "a $25,000 payment from the district for Barnes' attorney fees and a letter of apology from Liberty High School principal Greg Timmons." Barnes' statement:

I brought this case to stand up for myself and other students who might be afraid to express their right-of-center views. 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.


… The message on his shirt wasn't the point of this case. We brought the case to police the thought police….

The principal's:

Dear Addison,
Please accept my apologies for charging you with a suspension on Friday, January 19, 2018, for leaving campus. After discussing the matter with you and your father, the suspension was rescinded. I further apologize for any inconvenience or upset the charging of the suspension caused you.
Best wishes to you in the future.
Greg Timmons

And the school district's statement, reported in The Oregonian (Maxine Bernstein):

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 said they decided to settle the T-shirt case "given the cost and disruption of litigation."

The principal's letter was brief, apologized for Barnes' initial suspension and wished him well in the future, they said.

"As an educational institution," the statement said, "Hillsboro School District and each of our schools supports, encourages, and celebrates free speech and reasoned debate. We also have a responsibility to ensure that each of our students feels welcome and safe in our schools so they can effectively learn. This was an instance where we were challenged to do both simultaneously and the decision landed on the side of ensuring student safety. Moving forward, we will continue to use professional discretion to meet both objectives and will actively seek ways to turn sensitive situations into learning opportunities."

Thanks to Todd Rogers for the pointer.