Brad Mathewson's displays of gay pride involved more than just wearing t-shirts, according to documents filed earlier today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
In their motion to have Mathewson's civil rights lawsuit dismissed, district officials say another Webb City High School student filed a report with the Webb City Police after Mathewson "grabbed his groin area while researching in the library and frequently 'hit on' or 'flirted' with him."
That wasn't the only reason district officials say Mathewson's behavior, as well as his selection of clothing, was creating a disruption at the school.
The filing included a signed affidavit from High School Principal Stephen Gollhofer, a defendant in the lawsuit, that Mathewson had been flaunting his sexual preference in other ways. "Specifically, students complained that (Mathewson) was showing, and forcing in some instances, inappropriate photographs to students which depicted (Mathewson) and another male lying on top of one another, and the other male kissing (Mathewson's) neck."
Mathewson's claims that his t-shirts had not caused a disruption at the school were also disputed in the motion. "Students also complained about (his) t-shirts, and informed the administration that the t-shirts were inappropriate, as well as distracting."
The motion also says that district officials had genuine fears for Mathewson's safety. "The district had already handled and addressed threats of violence against (Mathewson). This all canvassed against a backdrop of a school which has, for years, maintained a strict dress code, and taken the strong stance that it will not permit disruption to the learning environment." Those factors would prevent Mathewson from being able to get an injunction to allow him to wear the shirts on the basis of the evidence, the motion said.
The motion adds, "(Mathewson's) right to express his position on homosexuality must be balanced against the district's responsibility to maintain a safe and harassment-free educational environment, free of disruption, for all students."
The motion says that even if Mathewson had not dropped out of school on Dec. 7, he still could not prevail because "his constitutional rights have not been violated. Speech that disrupts the school environment is not protected speech. The Webb City School District has provided quality education for years. In doing so, the district provides the best educational environment possible for its students."
The motion continues, "The district takes no pro, nor anti, position on sexual orientation issues. The district's only stance is pro-student."
The Constitution allowed the district to take the steps it did even if there had been no disruption, the motion said.
The district also noted a California court decision, in which a student was not allowed to wear an anti-gay t-shirt because of the potential disruption it might cause. Webb City High School's educational environment was "permeated with tension," the motion said.
The district's attorney, Sarah E. Lawrence of Doster, Mickes, James & Ullom, LLC, began the motion by noting that Mathewson does not have a standing to sue because he is no longer enrolled at Webb City.
Courts have consistently ruled against students in those situations, she said.
In a signed affidavit that accompanied the motion, Assistant Principal Randy Richardson said he met with Mathewson and his mother Marion Mathewson, on Dec. 7, talked over problems with Mathewson's attendance "and options for getting Brad back on track academically. At the conclusion of our meeting, it was my understanding that Brad would be returning to class. This understanding was based upon our meeting and Brad's mother's question to Brad as to whether he had his things for school.
Immediately after the meeting ended, Richardson's affidavit says, "I received a call from the high school secretary informing me that Brad was dropping out of school."
In his affidavit, Gollhofer said Mathewson was "never disciplined" for wearing the t-shirts. "He was merely directed to change or turn around his t-shirts.
"Further, Brad is not the only student that has been instructed to change a t-shirt. Numerous other students have been directed to change t-shirts displaying a variety of different messages that the district administration felt was either inappropriate or disruptive to the school environment."
American Civil Liberties Union officials have acknowledged in media interviews that it will be difficult to pursue the case since Mathewson dropped out of school. Their hope seems to lie with a group of students who wore t-shirts to support Mathewson the week after he filed his lawsuit. Reportedly, 11 students wore such shirts. Four followed administrators' requests to change the shirts. Seven others were sent home after refusing to do so. ACLU officials have indicated they will try to get one of those students to continue the case.
Newton County Sheriff Ron Doerge is not the only outgoing sheriff facing some difficulties. A lawsuit filed Dec. 21 in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri targets McDonald County Sheriff Robert Evenson, who was defeated in his re-election attempt and one of his deputies who apparently has a penchant for correcting the grammar and spelling on prisoners' grievance forms.
In his lawsuit, William Poole asks for an audit of the prison commissary, claiming that money is missing from inmate accounts.
Poole claims prison officials did not allow him to receive much-needed medication, causing him to have seizures and forcing his hospitalization. Poole says he filled out a postage request form to send a letter to the circuit clerk, but it was "brought back and torn up in front of me by Michelle Amos."
Lt. Amos also ignored staff memos to provide Poole with his medication, he claimed.
Poole also sent in grievance forms filled out by him and two other prisoners, all of which he indicates were corrected by Lt. Amos, though the deputy's signature on the forms is virtually illegible. In one dated Dec. 12, 2003, she denied a request by Poole to use the canteen and to see the sheriff, scolding him for not spelling using and sheriff correctly. Someone should have gone over her work since she wrote, "Peroids and commas need to correctly," then with a flourish, added, "Denied- ask your lawyer."
Another Poole grievance, dated Dec. 4, was returned with an "F" grade and "-50" written on it. Poole was complaining about a deputy not giving him soap to shower with and being disrespectful toward him, even though Poole was told if he wouldn't play with the soap he could probably have some.
On the same day, inmate Don Barkfelt also received an F, according to a copy of a grievance form entered into Poole's petition. Barkfelt wrote, "Was refused soap to take a shower and was very out of line with his language with us this morning." Lt. Amos replied, "Great story and introduction, but need and ending to this story.
The third grievance filed over the soap situation, submitted by Joe Darryl Andrews, was also graded F. "English helps" and "sentence doesn't make sense" were written on the grievance form. "Please rewrite the request so it can be read and written correctly."
Poole claims that when he filled out a form to file his lawsuit, it was torn to pieces in front of him by Lt. Amos. "(She) smiled at me as she tore up another sheet of paper that had dates and times on it. I did keep one sheet and that is the information that I am sending you to keep secure," Poole wrote.