There are many crimes a student attending West Virginia public schools could commit that would justify arrest but wearing a National Rifle Association t-shirt should not be one of them.
So says one mom who filed a federal lawsuit against the West Virginia Logan County Board of Education for suspending her son from attending middle school and having him arrested after he refused to turn his NRA t-shirt inside out when ordered to do so by school officials.
The mom, Tanya Lardieri, filed the lawsuit to protect her son’s constitutional rights and clear his name after Jared Marcum was charged by police with disrupting the educational process and obstructing an officer in 2013 when he refused to comply with an order to ditch the NRA t-shirt he was wearing or else.
While U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Johnston in Charleston later dismissed the criminal charges, Marcum was forced to serve a one-day suspension for refusing to give up his First Amendment right to wear the shirt. According to the lawsuit:
“The shirt was an un-alarming olive green tee shirt bearing the NRA logo, which is the letters ‘NRA’ in black, the words ‘PROTECT YOUR RIGHT,’ an image of a hunting rifle and the official NRA logo which has an eagle and two cross firearms…”
According to a report published in the Logan Banner, “the lawsuit names several school board members, the school district superintendent, as well as the principal, a teacher and staffers at Logan Middle School”. The Banner reported that:
“Lardieri claims while waiting in the lunch line in the school’s cafeteria (on April 18, 2013), Marcum was physically stopped by (school secretary Anita Gore), who placed her hand on Marcum’s chest, stopping him from proceeding further, and advised him that his shirt violated school dress code and instructed him to turn the shirt inside our or face suspension from school,”
Gore called in teacher David Burroway for help and he agreed that the shirt violated the dress code. Burroway took Marcum by the arm and forcibly escorted him to the principal’s office according to the lawsuit.
School officials called in a police officer who arrested the teen with obstruction of justice after an officer ordered him to stop talking which he refused to do. Quoting a separate Associated Press story:
“When the police came, I was still talking and telling them that this was wrong, that they cannot do this, it’s not against any school policy. The officer, he told me to sit down and be quiet. I said, ‘No, I’m exercising my right to free speech.’ I said it calmly.”
The lawsuit against the school district seeks $200,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages for violating Marcum’s First and 14th Amendment rights.
The lawsuit also states that the shirt complied with county and school dress code policies against violent or threatening images. Marcum told the AP that:
“I was surprised. It shocked me that the school didn’t know their own dress code and their own policy. I figured they would have known not to call me out on that shirt because there was nothing wrong with it”…“The only disturbance was caused by the teacher. He raised his voice…”
Chapmanville attorney Ben White, who is representing the family in the legal action, said that he didn’t understand why teachers reacted the way he did. If a teacher is telling you to do something wrong, I don’t think you should be forced to follow it.