School apologizes for making girl remove NRA T-shirt

LOS ANGELES — A California high school student who grabbed a National Rifle Association T-shirt in her hurry to find something clean to wear to school was later confronted outside class by campus officials who forced the student to remove her shirt or face suspension, the girl’s parents said.

Haley Bullwinkle heeded the demand, took off the white T-shirt and slipped on a school shirt that officials at Canyon High in Anaheim handed her, but came home confused and frightened, said Mark Selmi, a Long Beach attorney who believes that the school, in following its zero tolerance dress code, violated Haley’s civil rights.

“I felt like they were violating my rights, my freedom of speech,” the sophomore said. “I want to be able to wear what I want to wear within reason.”

On Thursday, the school changed course and apologized to the 16-year-old and said campus staff will be trained so that “an incident like this does not occur again.”

The offending T-shirt was white with an American flag and a silhouette of a hunter with a rifle and the slogan: “National Rifle Association of America, Protecting America’s Traditions Since 1871.”

In asking the student to remove the shirt, school officials said the depiction of the rifle was a violation of the school’s dress code. When the student’s parents wrote to the school’s principal, suggesting that administrators had infringed on their daughter’s constitutional rights, Principal Kimberly Fricker responded by sending the parents the school’s policy on clothing that depicts violence.

The school’s dress code prohibits clothing that promotes or depicts violence, criminal activity and anything that’s degrading to ethnic values, among other restrictions.

“In general, anything that is divisive or offensive to a staff member,” the policy said. “The administration reserves the right to restrict any clothing or accessories that in our judgment detracts from the educational environment of Canyon High School.”

However, after reviewing the pictures on the shirt, Fricker later concluded that the shirt didn’t promote violence, the Orange Unified School District said in a statement.

“The student will be permitted to wear the shirt,” said Superintendent Michael Christensen in a statement.

“If they’re going to try to characterize this shirt as depicting violence, then this policy is overboard,” said Chuck Michel, an attorney who has represented the NRA and was working with the Bullwinkle family at the organization’s request.

“School officials can’t write themselves a policy that gives them unfettered discretion.”

This wasn’t the first time Bullwinkle wore the shirt, Michel said, he’s not sure why it caught the school’s attention this time, but believes it may be connected to the national debate on gun rights.

In 2012 Canyon High School made headlines for its “Seniores” and “Senoritas” events in which students dressed as gang members and a pregnant woman pushing a baby stroller.

The school, which approved the event, has since canceled it after determining the activities were demeaning toward Latinos and their culture.

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