Can You Heart Boobies in Public School?
Most people have seen the popular I <3 Boobies bracelets in recent years. They come in a variety of bright colors, they’re made of stretchy rubber, are about as thick as a watch, and in very large letters, say “I <3 Boobies.” They are produced by a company called Keep-A-Breast, a fundraising and educational company. In their mission statement, they state that, “The Keep A Breast Foundation™ is the leading youth-focused, global, nonprofit breast cancer organization. Our mission is to eradicate breast cancer for future generations. We provide support programs for young people impacted by cancer and educate people about prevention, early detection, and cancer-causing toxins in our everyday environment.” Depending on whether the bracelets are sold by an outside retailer, or through the company itself, Keep-A-Breast earns somewhere between $1.50-$4.00 to go to research and prevention for each bracelet sold. Unfortunately, these bracelets have been banned in many schools across the country because of claims that the message “I <3 Boobies” is too sexual in nature and too likely to be abused.
In 2010, two young women, Brianna Hawk and Kayla Martinez, wore the bracelets to school as part of their middle school’s Breast Cancer Awareness Day. The girls attended school in the Easton Area School District of Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half northwest of Philadelphia. The school district had previously dictated that these bracelets were forbidden from school because they were lewd in nature. The school cited creating a hyper-sexualized environment for its middle school students as a concern. Hawk and Martinez, then 12 and 13, were suspended from school.
The Hawk and Martinez families immediately took action. The ACLU helped the girls file a suit, and they won. The school board continued to appeal the case, but on each appeal they lost. Most recently, in August 2013, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of appeals upheld the ruling in favor of the girls. Put simply, the two arguments at issue are that the School District believed that the bracelets were disruptive, but the girls claimed they were just trying to raise awareness of the disease and the stigma behind it. Martinez had actually had an aunt die of breast cancer when she was younger. She explained her motivation behind fighting for the bracelets. “In our generation, all the teenagers ask me about the bracelet. So it shows the bracelets teach a lot to kids.” The Courts agreed with the argument made by the girls.
On Tuesday, October 19, the School Board voted 7-1 to bring the case to the Supreme Court. The school is claiming that this is not just about the bracelets, but rather about the overall ability of a school district to deem what is and what is not appropriate for its students. The one board member who voted against bringing the case forward, Frank Pintabone, expressed exhaustion with the legal battle, stating, “I think we should be done with it. Let it go. We lost 20, 30 times, I don’t even know anymore.”
Whether or not students have the right to wear whatever they want to school has always been contentious. From Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, probably the most well-known precedent in regards to students’ constitutional rights, to upcoming the Easton School District Case, students’ rights are a hotly debated set of issues. Whether this case will limit freedoms, or extend the ones granted in Tinker will be interesting to observe.
Anneliese Mahoney (@AMahoney8672) is Lead Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at amahoney@LawStreetMedia.com.
Featured image courtesy of [Krystal Pritchett via Flickr]