WHITE CLOUD, Mich. (WZZM) - The American Civil Liberties Union is urging the White Cloud School Board to reverse the suspension of four students who refused to remove bracelets bearing the breast cancer awareness message 'I (Heart) Boobies.'
ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman says the bracelets are protected expression under the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"Shutting down the student's speech shuts down a conversation that is important," she says. "The courts have been clear. Schools can not censor student speech unless it's substantially disruptive."
Monday night the White Cloud School Board met for the first time since the suspensions earlier this month. Nobody on the board expressed an opinion about the ban on "boobie bracelets." But they listened to comments from the public.
"We need to let kids express things in their own words, in terms they understand," resident Joe Surman told the board. "Not go heavy handed on them."
"Teachers are entitled to a hassle free work environment," disagreed resident Phil Wimmer. "This is their workplace. If it offends one then the board is obligated to help work through this."
The suspended students and their supporters say the "boobie bracelets" and t-shirts with slogans that include "ta-tas" and "fun bags" are intended to raise awareness about breast cancer and support patients fighting the disease.
"We all know someone who has fought the disease, is fighting the disease or who has died from the disease," said Robert Raymo, who's son was suspended for wearing the bracelet.
"I find the term "boobies" offensive," countered White Cloud High School Student Brandon Kukal. "The proper term is breast, not boobie."
"The word "boobies" is a term picked by national cancer awareness groups to speak to young people who might not be as receptive to other types of slogans," says the ACLU's Aukerman. "It's not a word that was picked out of the blue. It's been a very successful camping to speak to young people about breast cancer issues."
In a Pennsylvania case, the ACLU attorney says a federal judge upheld the right of middle school students to wear the "boobie bracelets."
She says White Cloud High School staff removed flyers explaining that decision when they were posted by students.