In the span of a week, two Wisconsin schools were sued for prohibiting students from wearing T-shirts depicting guns.
The mothers of two sophomores at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales sued their sons’ school and its principal, Beth Kaminski, in federal court on Thursday, a day after they were removed from class for violating the dress code and told them to cover their shirts with their jackets.
One shirt depicted an automatic pistol in a holster behind a banner for the gun rights group Wisconsin Carry, Inc., while the other shows a silhouette of an AR-15 with the words “pew professional” – the word pew being to used to describe the sound a bullet makes when shot from the rifle.
That lawsuit followed about a week after another against Shattuck Middle School in the Neenah Joint School District, which involved a T-shirt advertising firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson with a drawing of a revolver on it.
Both lawsuits come less than a year and a half after a judge issued a preliminary injunction in a case against Markesan High School in Wisconsin to prohibit that school from barring T-shirts depicting guns. The principal subsequently agreed to allow the student to wear a shirt with guns so long as it doesn’t advocate or imply violent or illegal use of firearms.
The lawyer who won the injunction in the Markesan case, John Monroe – whose website describes him as the premier gun rights attorney in Georgia, is the same attorney for Tara Lloyd and Kimberly Newhouse in the Kettle Morraine case.
“They have to reasonably forecast that the clothing would cause a disruption to the school and that’s been defined to mean a ‘sick school’ which means declining test grades and poor student performance,” Monroe told WISN-TV in Milwaukee. “They just can’t make a case like that over a couple of T-shirts.
“An image of a gun on a shirt, you know — there’s a giant leap of faith to get from that to an actual school shooting. I mean, there’s just not any correlation between those two.”
Monroe said his clients are not seeking any damages but are requesting the court order the school from prohibiting students from wearing T-shirts that depict “firearms in a non-violent, non-threatening manner.”
According to the Kettle Moraine suit, both students were removed from class and told their shirts violated the dress code, which bans “anything “threatening, violent and illegal, such as drugs and alcohol.”
Both Kaminski and her associate principal further told the students that requiring them to cover their T-shirts was not a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech.
Additionally, Kaminski wrote in subsequent email to Newhouse that, “We do not allow students to wear clothes that depict guns.”
The suit contends the dress code in the student handbook doesn’t mention such clothing and provides no “objective criteria by which plaintiff can determine what clothing is restricted.”
Kettle Moraine School District Superintendent Pat Deklotz told parents in a statement that the district wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the lawsuit but added courts have recognized “legitimate pedagogical concerns in preventing violence” in schools.
The Neenah Joint School District disputed the contention in the lawsuit against it, writing in a statement Monday that it “has not required any students to change a shirt depicting a firearm and advocating gun ownership.”