What's at Stake
Virginia student free speech
Bethany Laccone, a 17-year-old senior from Portsmouth, Virginia, takes a hotel management class every morning at I.C. Norcom High School before returning to her regular school for the rest of her classes. An out lesbian for over two years, Laccone sometimes wears a t-shirt which bears an image of two overlapping female gender symbols. On December 10, 2007, Laccone was pulled out of class at Norcom High by a teacher who said she shouldn’t be wearing the shirt at school and then sent her to the assistant principal’s office. The assistant principal and the teacher then told Laccone that the shirt violated a section of the school dress code that bans “bawdy, salacious or sexually suggestive messages.” In a later meeting with Laccone’s father, the assistant principal said that he was upholding the censorship, and added that the teacher is “very conservative” and claimed she was so upset by the t-shirt that it “interfered with her ability to teach.”
In a demand letter sent to I.C. Norcom High School officials, the ACLU demanded that any mention of the censorship be removed from Laccone’s student record, that the school guarantee it would not illegally censor Laccone or other students in the future, and that the school apologize to Laccone for its actions.
The ACLU of Virginia and the national ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project worked together in handling Laccone’s complaint.
Status: Victory! After receiving the ACLU’s demand letter, Bethany’s school told her that she could wear her t-shirt and she would no longer be unconstitutionally punished for it.