A group of Arab-American high school students were reprimanded for wearing sweatshirts they made which school administrators said "distastefully" referenced the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Center.
Eleven boys from Edsel Ford High School's graduating class of 2011 in Dearborn, Mich., wore hooded sweatshirts to school Monday depicting the numeral 11 with windows drawn on each digit, so they looked like towers. Alongside the towers is a thunderbird, the school's mascot, flying towards them. The text below the images read "You can't bring us down."
"The whole design gave prominence to the 9/11 tragedy, and of course was very upsetting to staff and students," said Principal Hassane Jaafar in a statement.
School officials said the boys intended the shirts to be displays of class pride and did not understand that they would be perceived as offensive.
"After talking with the students, it became clear that there were no intentions of harm, rather a very inappropriate and distasteful attempt to draw attention to themselves and to the class of 2011," said Jaafar.
The principal said the sweatshirts were confiscated, the students were reprimanded and the principal planned to meet with the students' parents.
Some 300 people showed up at a Parent Teacher Student Association meeting Tuesday night at which administrators discussed the incident. Some parents supported Jaafar's decision to confiscate the shirts, but not suspend the boys, while others believe disciplinary action should have been taken, said Jennifer Browne, president of the PTSA.
"I support our principal and his handling of the situation" Browne told ABCNews.com. "But I know not everyone is happy with it. Some people chose to interpret the sweatshirts as support of terrorism or a threat of a terrorist attack."
Of the 1,500 students at the school, half are Arab and Browne said she believed some of the parents' reactions may have been racially motivated.
"My personal feeling is that a lot of people did overreact. People wouldn't have felt nearly as threatened if these were white girls who made the shirts instead of Arab-American boys. The messengers, not the message, were at issue for these individuals," she said.
The students had the sweatshirts, which included each of their nicknames above the 9/11 image, made at a shop over Christmas break and wore them Monday, their first day back.
Browne, mother of a daughter in the class of 2011, said some of the reaction to the shirts may have been in response to the botched bombing by an alleged Muslim terrorist on a Christmas Day flight bound for nearby Detroit.
None of the students' names have been made public.