Girls testify in 'boobies' bracelet case

Dec 16 2010 - 4:59pm

PHILADELPHIA -- Two Pennsylvania middle school students testified Thursday in a federal court that they defied a school district ban on the popular "I (heart) Boobies!" bracelets because they were proudly standing up for breast cancer awareness.

"I think the school took the meaning of the bracelets out of context," said Brianna Hawk, 13, one of two girls suspended in October for wearing the bracelets.

Hawk and Kayla Martinez, 12, who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, both said on the stand that they use "boobies" at home to refer to breasts and consider the word harmless slang. They also testified that breast cancer awareness was important to them because either their family or friends of their family had been affected by the disease.

Attorneys for the Easton Area School District argue that the word "boobies," specifically when used in the phrase "I (heart) Boobies!," is lewd, vulgar and has no place in a middle school. Administrators enacted a ban based on the district dress code.

The purpose of the hearing Thursday was for U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin to decide whether to temporarily overturn the district's bracelet ban as the case continues. Her decision could also send a signal to other school districts across the United States that have enacted similar bans.

Hawk said that after purchasing the bracelets, she researched the Keep A Breast Foundation, the nonprofit that created the bracelets, as well as breast cancer in general.

"In school people would ask me what's the bracelet for, what's the bracelet stand for, and I could explain to them what it's about and what it's for," Hawk said. "I could influence them to be aware of breast cancer and buy bracelets and raise money for the foundation."

Anthony Viglianti, the seventh-grade assistant principal at the Easton Area Middle School, testified Thursday that it would be inappropriate for his students to wear pink T-shirts reading "Breast Cancer Awareness," even on a day widely recognized to raise awareness for the disease.

According to prevailing case law, school districts can regulate clothing that causes a "substantial or material" disruption of the school day.

The Easton district, about 50 miles north of Philadelphia, argues in court filings that the bracelets caused middle school boys to make inappropriate comments toward girls. In one case, it writes, a boy inappropriately touched a girl.

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