In a test case of whether breast-cancer fundraising bracelets that proclaim "I [heart] boobies!" can be banned in public schools, one Pennsylvania district is calling the slogan a sexually charged double entendre.
The free-speech case involves Easton Area Middle School, whose principals struggled on the witness stand yesterday when asked if T-shirts with the words "breast cancer" should be permitted on the school's Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
The middle school suspended two girls in October for refusing to remove the colorful rubber bracelets, which have become wildly popular among teens across the country.
But the Easton Area School District is the first to try to defend a ban in court, according to the Keep A Breast Foundation, the Carlsbad, Calif., nonprofit that sells the bracelets to engage young people in breast-cancer awareness.
Yesterday in federal court in Philadelphia, a school-district lawyer asked the suspended girls, Brianna Hawk and Kayla Martinez, if they wore the bracelets as fashion statements or to make waves by defying a school rule.
The girls, whose mothers supported the protest, acknowledged they celebrated with high-fives as they were called down to the principal's office.
Martinez testified that they were "proud of standing up for what we believed in.
"Ever since I got that bracelet, I've been researching breast cancer," the seventh-grader said. "Anybody that gets this disease . . . could die from it. It's very tragic."
The girls were suspended for what the school considered "disruption, defiance and disrespect" - although they were previously told they had violated the school dress code. According to the school district, the bracelets prompted at least two boys to try to touch girls inappropriately.
The girls, who each said they knew someone who had suffered from breast cancer, each served a 1 1/2-day suspension.
Schools from Florida to California also have tried to ban the bracelets.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the Easton girls on free-speech grounds and described them as good students, successfully intervened without filing suit in a few other districts.
The ACLU admits the "boobies" slogan may be irreverent but says it falls far short of the obscene or profane speech the U.S. Supreme Court permits schools to ban.
The girls asked U.S. District Judge Mary McLaughlin to lift the bracelet ban and expunge their disciplinary records.
The judge plans to hear oral arguments in the case early next year before ruling.