- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003


The Supreme Court yesterday refused to consider whether students can be barred from taking their redneck humor to class.

Justices rejected an appeal from a school district that wanted the court to allow it to bar redneck attire. It was a victory for a New Jersey teenager suspended for wearing a T-shirt he bought at a Wal-Mart store. He also had been criticized for wearing shirts with the Confederate battle flag.

The case raised questions about how far school leaders can go to prevent discipline problems, without violating students’ free-speech rights.

An appeals court held that the word “redneck” was not used to intimidate and harass other students, and that the school in New Jersey overstepped its bounds in punishing student Thomas Sypniewski Jr. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals questioned whether schools would next try to stop the use of other words, such as “hillbilly.”

Officials in the rural school district in Warren County, N.J., said the student’s shirt, featuring jokes of comedian Jeff Foxworthy, violated an anti-harassment and intimidation policy enacted because of racial tension at the high school. The policy also banned the display of the battle flag on school grounds or at school events. Court records show the school has few black students.

James Broscious, the school district’s attorney, had urged the court to schedule arguments in the case, telling justices “this issue is very significant, considering the current situation in our nation’s schools, and the need for administrations to be proactive to ensure a safe atmosphere for all the children.”

Gerald Walpin, attorney for Mr. Sypniewski, who has graduated, said there were no problems with redneck T-shirts at the high school, which is located near the Pennsylvania border.

Mr. Sypniewski was suspended for three days for wearing the shirt that bore Mr. Foxworthy’s “Top 10 Reasons You Might Be a Redneck Sports Fan.” Among them: “You wear a baseball cap to bed” and “You know the Hooters’ menu by heart.”

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