When tempers calm, Webb City R-7 School District officials said, the restrictions against Gay Pride t-shirts will end. That could come as early as the end of the current school year in about four weeks, according to documents filed Friday in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
In addition to that revelation, the filing was highlighted by some new information. R-7 officials claim that Brad Mathewson was allowed to wear his gay pride t-shirts on numerous occasions before the incident which triggered first his lawsuit, and now the lawsuit filed by 15-year-old sophomore LaStaysha Myers against the school district.
The new information was included in affidavits filed by Superintendent Ron Lankford and High School Principal Steven Gollhofer. Lankford said, "It is important to note, however, that Student A (which is how every item in the district's response refers to Mathewson.) wore these t-shirts without incident or restriction on previous occasions, and the district's restriction did not occur prior to disruptive conduct."
Gollhofer said, "It is important to note, however, that Student A wore these t-shirts without incident or restriction on previous occasions, and the district's restriction did not occur prior to disruptive conduct."
Apparently, the district's attorneys did not get the word that all responses were supposed to be word for word the same. In their April 21 response to Ms. Myers' First Amendment lawsuit, they said, "It is significant to note that Student A (Mathewson) wore the same t-shirts on prior occasions without restriction because there were no accompanying disruptions."
The disruptions were caused by Mathewson himself, district officials said. "Specifically, students complained that (he) was showing, and forcing in some instances, inappropriate photographs to students which depicted (him) and another male lying on top of one another, and the other male kissing (his) neck. Students complained about (Mathewson's) t-shirts and informed the administration that the t-shirts were inappropriate, as well as distracting."
The district officials' response continued, "Additionally, another student reported that (Mathewson) grabbed his groin area while researching in the library, and frequently 'hit on' or 'flirted' with him." The student filed a complaint with the Webb City Police Department, according to the response.
The district had already fielded threats of violence against Mathewson, the response indicates.
It was Mathewson's actions that led to the request that he stop wearing gay pride t-shirts, the response says. "Student A's later conduct caused, and district personnel also reasonably forecasted, a continuing and escalating substantial disruption to the district's educational environment. In fact, this controversy spurred picketing and protests by both anti-homosexual and pro-homosexual rights groups (some coming from out of state) directly adjacent to school property while students arrived at school to commence their school day."
With the picketers carrying signs and yelling at each other, and the media in tow, district administrators made the decision to prevent any potential "volatile situations" from occurring.
That was what led to the decision to prevent Ms. Myers and others students from wearing t-shirts supporting Mathewson, the response said. Ms. Myers, a heterosexual, wore the shirt as a show of support for her friend Mathewson. Mathewson's initial lawsuit, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, was dismissed after he dropped out of school. The ACLU is now backing the lawsuit filed by Ms. Myers, who was asked to change the shirt by Assistant Principal Jeff Thornberry, a defendant in the lawsuit.
"I was the principal who initially discovered LaStaysha's wearing of said t-shirts," Thornberry said in his affidavit. "I instructed LaStaysha to either change her shirt or turn it inside out."
A dozen students, including LaStaysha, were told to change their shirts, Thornberry said."My actions and other actions of other administrators were taken in efforts to direct students' attention to the classroom."
Thornberry said he thought the controversy was nearly over when Ms. Myers' lawsuit was filed. "It is my hope that the summer will allow these issues to completely die and allow for our restrictions to be lifted prior to the 2005-2006 school year."
Gollhofer expressed the same sentiments, in fact, in the same words. "It is my hope that the summer will allow these issues to completely die and allow for our restrictions to be lifted prior to the 2005-2006 school year."
Lankford's affidavit phrased it a little differently. "There are currently only 20 days left in the regular school year. Unless there are further incidents or factors which cause this incident to continue to disrupt our school's academic mission, I anticipate these issues and corresponding restrictions to dissipate and thereby no longer require the district's restriction in the 2005-2006 school year."
Lankford said administrators handled the situation the way it should have been handled. "In my opinion as a professional educator, the handling of this heated controversy by the district's administration was wholly appropriate."