ACLU: School violated transgender student's First Amendment rights

Published: Feb. 24, 2017 at 11:08 PM CST
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The American Civil Liberties Union said it will defend a transgender student at Newton High School who was asked to wipe off a political statement he wrote on his arm.

Iowa's ACLU sent a letter to the Newton superintendent Friday demanding the district apologize to the student for violating his First Amendment rights.

Officials with ACLU Iowa said the student wrote “love trumps hate” on his arm in November, and a gym teacher at the school told him to wipe it off while also calling him a girl.

"That student was taken to the assistant principal's office and told that he either had to wash that off or go home, and we feel this is a very clear violation of his fundamental right to free speech,” ACLU Iowa Communications Director Veronica Fowler said.

The district's superintendent released a statement, saying, "The district takes all such allegations seriously, and is conducting an investigation. The district will take other responsive action as appropriate. The District is committed to providing its students with a safe and positive learning environment."

Students who spoke to KCCI Friday said they had not heard about the case but believe the student should not have been asked to wash his arm.

"It doesn't really matter what people think, and you know, it's their decision,” Newton senior Breennen Dodd said. “It's their own opinion. They can do whatever they want."

The ACLU letter included a list of demands, including an apology to the student and the education of staff and students on their First Amendment rights.

"Their political views aren't checked at the school house gate,” Fowler said. “You get to have political and free speech at schools."

The ACLU’s letter was delivered on the 48th anniversary of Tinker vs. Des Moines Public Schools, a Supreme Court ruling that says freedom of speech applies in schools.