The Easton Area School District has agreed to pay attorney’s fees in the famous “I (heart) Boobies!” case that helped define student speech and expression rights.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the district will pay a total of $385,000 in three installments in 30 days, January 1, and June 1.
“I am happy we won this case, because it’s important that students have the right to stand up for a cause and try to make a difference. We just wanted to raise awareness about breast cancer,” said Briana Hawk.
Students Kayla Martinez and Brianna Hawk filed the lawsuit in 2010 after the two girls received in-school suspensions for refusal to take off their breast cancer awareness bracelets that read: “I heart Boobies. Keep a Breast.”
The district had backed the principal’s decision to suspend the girls, saying the bracelets were “lewd” and held a sexual innuendo that was distracting in a school setting.
In April 2011, a district court ruled that the district’s punishment violated the students’ right to free speech. An injunction was passed denying the district the ability to enforce its ban on the jewelry.
The district then appealed the ruling. The court of appeals ruled in August that the bracelets were not “plainly lewd” and were therefore not a disruption. That decision ended a case that had been pending for more than three years.
Plaintiff Kayla Martinez said, “This whole experience has taught me that speaking up about issues that really matter to young people really makes a difference, even if you’re only in seventh grade.”
The ruling marks the first time that a federal court of appeals has ruled that student speech is under the protection of the First Amendment even when containing language that may be considered by some to be lewd.
“The majority’s opinion recognizes that teens, like adults, must be free to speak and learn about important issues that affect them. Even issues, like breast cancer, that make school administrators uncomfortable,” said Mary Catherine Roper, counsel in the case.
The district paid a total of $107,000 in pursuance of the case, paid in part from an insurance policy.
The ruling, which better-defines and protects students’ right to free speech, applies to all states covered by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
“The First Amendment protects schools as a space where students are free to discuss important issues like breast cancer and talk about their bodies in positive terms,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The court’s decision today is an important reminder to school administrators that they can’t punish students for speaking out just because their speech might be uncomfortable or misunderstood.”
Similar disputes have occurred in school districts in California, Florida and Wyoming.
The nonprofit Keep A Breast Foundation distributes the bracelets at the heart of the case.