Webb City R-7 officials have several more reasons why LaStaysha Myers' First Amendment lawsuit against them should be dismissed.
Those reasons were outlined in a filing today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Attorney Sarah Lawrence of Doster, Mickes, James, Ullom, Benson & Guest, says Ms. Myers' attorneys' attempts to liken this case to the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District case are flawed. In the Tinker case, a principal heard that students were planning to wear black armbands as a symbol of opposition to the Vietnam War. He immediately established a rule against the wearing of any kind of armband. Three students defied the rule and were suspended. They sued the school, claiming that their First Amendment freedom of speech rights had been violated. In 1969, the U. S. Supreme Court decided in the students' favor.
"The Tinker decision provided that school officials need not await an actual disruption 'but rather the existence of facts that might reasonably lead school officials to forecast substantial disruptions.' "
The filing continues, "Here, past experiences at Webb City High School had already proven disruptive current events, including a confrontation between pro-homosexual and anti-homosexual groups, located literally outside the school doors, were undeniably influencing student activities and behavior necessarily including that of (Ms. Myers) herself; and based on previous instances of actual disruption, threatened disruption would have existed if the district administrators failed to address the very issues which, at that time, were detracting from the educational mission at hand."
Ms. Lawrence says that Webb City school officials did not do what the Des Moines officials did in the Tinker case. They did not come up with a policy just to address one particular situation and school officials in that case admitted their new rule had been put in place because they disagreed with the students' anti-war viewpoint.
Also, Ms. Lawrence added, "t-shirts in support of homosexual rights were worn without incident at the district prior to the outbreak of disruptions."
Without mentioning him by name, Ms. Lawrence then indicated that Brad Mathewson's behavior, not the shirts he was wearing, was responsible for the banning of the shirts in the first place.
School officials will allow the shirts during the 2005-2006 year, the filing says, barring "further disruptive circumstances." The kind of disruptive circumstances, which they attributed to Mathewson in filings in Mathewson's case, include "confrontation, picketing, tension, verbal solicitations, and physical displays of photographs of student sexual contact that preceded the previous disruptions at school."
Ms. Lawrence said school officials will not guarantee how they will respond. "The district's administrators, unfortunately, have no crystal ball upon which to determine what decisions and responses it will make to preserve an educational environment of the highest possible quality."
Ms. Lawrence asked that the lawsuit, which names High School Principal Steven Gollhofer, Assistant Principal Bruce Thornberry and Superintendent Ron Lankford as defendants, be dismissed with prejudice, meaning that it could not be refiled.