Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A motion to dismiss former Webb City High School student Brad Mathewson's civil rights lawsuit against the R-7 School District is expected to be filed tomorrow in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
Tomorrow is the deadline for district officials to respond to Mathewson's lawsuit. They were given an extension a couple of weeks ago. District officials will contend that Mathewson no longer has a standing to sue since he is no longer a student in the school district. Mathewson told the Kansas City Star he dropped out because his grades were falling due to the problems surrounding his stand in favor of gay rights.
The situation began when Mathewson was sent to the office by a teacher for wearing a Gay-Straight Alliance t-shirt from his former school in Fayetteville, Ark. Mathewson was told by administrators to change shirts, turn the shirt inside out, or go home. He went into a bathroom and swapped shirts with another student, who wore the Gay-Straight Alliance t-shirt for the rest of the day without incident, according to Mathewson's lawsuit.
Later, Mathewson wore a homemade T-shirt proclaiming that he was gay and he was proud. Administrators gave him the same options as before. This time, Mathewson chose to go home. Then he followed the same game plan followed by a gay student in Dearborn, Mich., who took his school to court after he was not allowed to wear a t-shirt proclaiming that President Bush is a terrorist.
Bret Barber of Dearborn went to the American Civil Liberties Union, which took the Dearborn School District to court and an injunction was issued allowing Barber to wear his shirt. That case had been well-publicized and was known to members of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Fayetteville last year when Mathewson was a member.
Mathewson called the ACLU, which agreed to hire local attorney James Fleischaker to represent him. A lawsuit was filed against the R-7 School District asking for the same type of injunction, claiming that Mathewson's constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression was being violated by the administrators' decisions.
R-7 administrators have said that Mathewson's shirts violated the dress code and were banned because they potentially could create a disturbance.
Mathewson's decision to drop out of school may not end the lawsuit. ACLU officials have told The Joplin Globe and The Kansas City Star that they are talking with a group of students who protested against the Mathewson decision by wearing homemade T-shirts. Seven of those students were sent home by district officials. ACLU officials indicate they are trying to get one of those students to pick up the banner and continue with the lawsuit.

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