Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The War Against T-Shirts

SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, MIDVALE, UT - A nervous David Perez scurried down the hallway and ducked into Marshall Brown's classroom. Perez's sanctuary was short-lived, however.

His pursuer, Assistant Principal David Breen, entered the room seconds later and ordered the Hillcrest High senior to take off his anti-war T-shirt. Fearing for the student's safety, Brown says, he tried to intervene. "Breen told me it was none of my business," recalls the marketing teacher.

Breen then escorted Perez to the office. Though Breen disputes Brown's version of their exchange two years ago, Hillcrest administrators have brought other students to the office for their choice of T-shirts.

This past year, the Midvale school made headlines when administrators barred students from wearing anti-smoking shirts displaying the phrase "Queers Kick Ash." But students and parents say the crackdown also extended to anti-war T-shirts with slogans such as "Drop Doughnuts, Not Bombs" and "No Blood for Oil." School officials concede that they discouraged students from wearing anti-war T-shirts -- especially immediately after U.S. troops invaded Iraq.

Breen and his boss, Principal Linda Sandstrom, told The Salt Lake Tribune they hoped to preempt confrontations between anti-war students and classmates with family members stationed in Iraq. The strategy, Breen explains, is to "stop things before they hit the fan."

District officials acknowledge that students have the right to wear anti-war shirts. But, they add, "it's difficult to control the reaction of students with strong opposing views." Said Sandstrom and Breen in a joint statement: "Provocative acts sometimes provoke other individuals."...

To test whether school officials employed a double standard, Robin Rothfeder, who graduated from Hillcrest last year and is now a sophomore at the University of California-Berkeley, says he conducted an experiment. Two years ago, he donned a T-shirt identical to the handmade anti-war versions Perez and their friends were wearing. However, Rothfeder's version supported President Bush and the war in Iraq. When a Hillcrest hall monitor read his shirt, she praised Rothfeder for "standing up for his country."

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