A claim by two Wisconsin boys that their rights were violated by school dress codes prohibiting depictions of firearms was dismissed in federal court on Monday.
The two students had both been ordered in February 2020 to cover T-shirts that had images of handguns while they were in school.
N.J., who last year was a seventh-grader at Shattuck Middle School in Neenah, wore a shirt advertising Smith & Wesson Firearms, with an image of a revolver. He had previously been warned “several times” about wearing clothes that violated the school’s ban on images of guns. On the day in question, an associate principal asked him to cover the shirt. N.J. put on a sweatshirt and returned to class.
A.L., a student at Kettle Moraine High School, on the outskirts of the Milwaukee area, wore a shirt from the organization Wisconsin Carry that depicted the silhouette of a holstered handgun. An associate principal asked him to zip up his jacket to hide the shirt, and he did.
Neither boy suffered any penalty or discipline beyond being asked to cover their shirts.
The consolidated cases sought permanent injunctions against the schools’ enforcement of dress code prohibitions of clothing depicting firearms.
The dress codes allow clothing with messages supporting the Second Amendment and other political matters as long as it does not include an image of a gun — and A.L. had, indeed, not been asked to cover a shirt with a text reference to an AR-15.
In granting the school districts’ request for summary judgment with dismissal of the case, U.S. District Judge William C. Griesbach wrote: “As long as school officials offer reasonable explanations for viewpoint-neutral restrictions in student dress codes, courts should not second guess their decisions.”
The schools had argued that images of guns could disrupt learning by causing fear and worry among students — especially in light of shootings at two Wisconsin schools in December 2019. “That fear may not be entirely rational, but it is no less real,” the judge agreed.
In summary, he said the dress code had “relatively minor impact on student speech rights,” and, given that neither boy had been disciplined, their claims of lack of due process weren’t valid.
The court document noted that A.L. has not been on campus this school year, instead taking classes remotely because he does not wish to comply with the school’s mask requirement.