Let’s be clear on the issue, here. Let’s imagine you are a school administrator tasked with enforcing the dress code. The code, and your enforcement thereof must, according to the constitution, be content-neutral. There are some limitations on this. For example, the court’s have held that schools can remove students whose speech content is disruptive to the learning process of other students. (You can say “fuck you” to the cops all day long but you can’t say that to a teacher during class.)
So, you are the school admin. You have a clear policy about what may and may not be worn to graduation. This is obviously put in place to avoid the extreme cases like people wearing pornographic images or swastikas on the gowns or taping the words “boing boing headline writers are becoming click baity cunts” on their hats.
Then imagine that this student, having been given a clearly-written set of rules about graduation attire, shows up in this clearly non-conforming attire. Note that the student never approached you before the ceremony and tried to work with you to figure out a way to accomplish his goals while not putting you between a rock an a hard place. Instead, he ambushes you with non-conforming attire and you may or may not know if it has any special meaning to anyone, nefarious or positive. (Another reason for dress codes: we can’t all know what every symbol means so instead of being subject to any given teacher’s ignorance, let’s just not let anything through.)
What do you do? If you let him participate, you open yourself to a discrimination lawsuit if you later tell the kid with the swastika (or the cross or Star of David or any other symbol) on his stole that he can not participate. If you don’t let him through, you are called “thug” and “racist” by websites like this.
From a legal advice standpoint, any attorney will tell you that you must try to enforce the code consistently, regardless of the content of the non-conforming attire, to protect yourself from discrimination lawsuits when you try to enforce the rule on future rule-breakers. (Note that this assumes that you agree with the law up to and including the Constitution. If you don’t then you have a different argument.)
This first step was exactly the right thing to do: they pulled the student aside and informed him that he was violating the rule and that he needed to remove the non-conforming attire. The student, once informed…yet again…of the rules, refused.
So how do you go about trying to deal with this awful choice that this student has put you in? You need to enforce the rule or open yourself to future lawsuits, but the rule says you can’t let him participate. What the story does not clarify is if the rule specifies HOW you are to Prevent him from participating. I am willing to bet it doesn’t as organizations that have to deal with this types
of thing want to keep their options open and react based on the circumstances. THAT is likely the problem.
From a “don’t open yourself to future suits” standpoint, the best thing to do would be to halt the proceedings and call the cops right away and have the student removed for trespassing before he walked the stage.
That is obviously very heavy handed.
A more reasonable way would have been to pause the proceedings, tell the person calling names to skip this student’s name unless the student removed the garment. That way, the student would have to take it upon himself to go across the stage without being called and looking like the jackass. But it avoids the cops.
Here, however, the administration chose the worst of both worlds. They let him walk a and THEN had the cops remove him.
The school district needs to publish instructions for how to deal with students like this in the future. It is not enough to tell some poor person earning way less than she should be earning for being a teacher that she must not let a student participate. They need to give very explicit instructions on how this is to be achieved. Basically, the school district has a reasonable rule given the law but wants to have their cake and eat it, too. Thus, they throw middle-management under the (school) bus.
Was this an over-reaction? Yes. Did it have ANYTHING to do with race? Nothing in the record indicates this. Does it have everything to do with school districts not being willing to give their employees explicit rules on how to handle students that put them in these situations? Yes.
Stop with the bullshit headlines and faux offense. There is more than enough injustice in the world than to worry about one smart kid who decided the rules didn’t apply to him and didn’t reach out to the school beforehand.
PS: if you, instead, think that there should be no such things as school dress codes or limits on speech in schools, that’s a different discussion. One that still has nothing to do with this bullshit headline.