- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

The National Rifle Association has filed a $150,000 federal lawsuit against a middle school in Albemarle County, Va., on behalf of a sixth-grader who was ordered to conceal an NRA emblem on a T-shirt.
The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville, claims officials of Jack Jouett Middle School violated the free-speech rights of Alan Newsom, now 12 and a seventh-grader.
Alan, of the small Earlysville community north of Charlottesville, was wearing the T-shirt April 29, when Assistant Principal Betty Pitt told him to take it off, turn it inside out and then put it on again.
That way, the NRA logo and silhouettes of three men with a pistol, rifle and shotgun could not be seen. Alan and 24 other boys and girls had received the shirts after an NRA gun-safety orientation course at the nearby Rivanna Rifle and Pistol Club the previous weekend.
"Alan was proud of that T-shirt. He came home [from school] and was rather angry," said the boy's father, Fred Newsom, 45, an investment consultant. "They made him feel like he was doing something wrong."
It was discouraging and confusing to Alan, who likes to shoot a .22-caliber rifle at paper targets in the Rivanna club, said Mr. Newsom.
The school's original dress code stated that "a student may not dress in a manner that is distracting or interferes with the orderly process of instruction." The school amended the policy to prohibit clothing associated with "weapons" and "violence."
On Sept. 17, the NRA filed suit against the school, its principal and vice principal, the superintendent and seven school board members, claiming they had violated Alan's First Amendment rights.
"The images are in no way inappropriate or violent," said NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre after filing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks $100,000 in damages and $50,000 punitive damages, plus legal costs. It claims 12 counts, including free speech and due-process violations of the U.S. and Virginia constitutions.
A court hearing is scheduled Oct. 2 for an injunction that would allow Alan to wear the T-shirt until the trial, which is expected in January.
Most school officials, including Superintendent Kevin Castner, referred queries to Deputy County Attorney Mark Trank, who did not return calls.
"We're not used to getting so much attention," said school board Chairman Stephen Koleszar.
Mr. Koleszar spoke with pride of the 25 schools and 12,000 students in the Albemarle County school system. Its Web site (www.k12albemarle.org) says its students' SAT scores are above state and national averages. A 2000 survey shows that 89 percent of parents believed the schools were safe and secure.
Jouett Middle School, a 36-year-old facility that sits on a 20-acre site, serves nearly 650 students.
The lawsuit notes that Jack Jouett, the school's namesake, was an American Revolutionary War hero who rode through the night on June 3, 1781, to warn Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and others that the British were coming to arrest patriots for signing the Declaration of Independence.
Alan had no previous difficulties in school, said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam, who said previous news accounts were accurate.
"This is clearly a case of political correctness running unchecked," Mr. LaPierre said. "Alan is a good student who has no disciplinary problems in school.
"He developed an affinity for shooting sports, and his father enrolled him in a NRA Youth Safety Camp to learn basic firearm safety. Alan aspires to represent his country in the Olympics someday."


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