A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a Johnston High School student who was removed from class and suspended by the school for wearing a pro-Second Amendment shirt.
Janet Bristow’s daughter wore the following shirt two days after her high school government class discussed students’ free speech rights:
The government teacher, a person called Tom Griffin, removed the student from class and the school suspended her, according to the lawsuit.
Griffin is an adjunct instructor at William Penn and Nebraska Methodist College as he teaches government and history. Ironically, in 2013 Griffin was named a James Madison Fellow, which is “America’s most prestigious award in constitutional history and government for secondary teachers.
The Foundation’s website said the goal of the James Madison Fellowship is to “help secondary level history, government and civics teachers to become outstanding educators of the U.S. Constitution.” Griffin is also active with the Bill of Rights Institute.
Two days prior to the incident, Griffin discussed students’ free speech rights with his senior government class. He told his students they have free speech rights while on school grounds, but that right is “extremely limited” when they step on school property. The lawsuit states he told the students he would decide what was acceptable speech in the classroom. He told the students he would not allow students to wear any clothing that depicts guns, alcohol or any other “inappropriate material.”
The student knew Griffin was wrong and wore the above shirt the next time she had Griffin’s government class.
The lawsuit said she had worn the shirt to school previously without any complaints. Her brother had worn the same shirt to school multiple times without complaints.
The lawsuit states Griffin knew the shirt was quoting the Second Amendment and knew it was a commentary on gun control efforts. Yet he claimed the shirt violated the school’s dress code and sent the student to the office.
The student’s mother arrived to the school and spoke with administration. An associate principal called Nate Zittergruen said the shirt couldn’t be worn because the image of a gun could be perceived to be threatening. When asked if any student felt threatened or offended, Zittergruen allegedly responded:
“We don’t get to choose how our words or actions make people feel.”
When the student refused to change shirts, the school administrators suspended her. The executive director of school leadership, a person called Chris Billings, sent the family a letter documenting the out-of-school suspension and cited dress code as the reason.
Laura Kacer, the district superintendent, called the mother to apologize for the ordeal after the mother emailed board members explaining what happened. Billings emailed the student to apologize as well stating he “now recognize[s] that this is considered political speech.”
The mother asked school officials that Griffin apologize as well and address his students and inform them he was wrong. Griffin, however, has refused to apologize to date.
The out-of-school suspension remains on the student’s online school record.
Defendants include the Johnston School District, various school administrators and Griffin.