Student suspended for border wall shirt gets $25,000 and apology

The school told the student to take off the shirt or go home, so he went home.

July 26, 2018, 5:41 PM

An Oregon high school student who was disciplined after wearing a shirt touting President Donald Trump’s border wall proposition has settled his lawsuit against Hillsboro School District for $25,000 and received an apology from the school’s principal, according to a statement from the student's attorneys.

Addison Barnes, 18, filed the lawsuit against Liberty High School after he was removed from class for refusing to cover his shirt that read "Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Co." and “The wall just got 10 feet taller."

School officials said Barnes’ shirt "offended" some students and teachers and was subsequently given a choice to either cover his shirt or go home, and by choosing to go home he was suspended, which was later rescinded, according to a statement from the Hillsboro School District.

Barnes filed the suit on May 18 this year and argued the school violated of his First Amendment rights to express his political views.

As alleged in the complaint, Barnes’ attorneys pointed out the paradox of the school’s disciplinary actions, as they allowed one of its teachers to hang a sign promoting sanctuary cities.

On May 29, the United States District Court in Oregon issued a restraining order that prevented the school from banning the shirt before the lawsuit was resolved.

In a response to the announced settlement agreement, Hillsboro School District said they were prepared to defend their position, but decided it was best to compromise due to the "cost and disruption of litigation."

The settlement included $25,000 for Barnes’ attorney fees and the letter of apology from Principal Greg Timmons.

In the short letter, Principal Timmons apologized for charging Barnes with a suspension and for "any inconvenience or upset the charging of the suspension caused you," and wished him well in the future.

Referencing one of the most iconic student free speech cases, Tinker vs. Des Moines, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the students who protested the Vietnam War with arm bands, Barnes’ lawyer Brad Benbrook said in court, “We brought the case to police the thought police,” adding “The First Amendment does not allow what is going on in too many schools today.”

Citing the same case, the school’s statement in response to the settlement points out the Tinker vs. Des Moines ruling also allows schools to limit a student’s speech or expression if the school can "reasonably forecast that the speech will materially and substantially disrupt the school or if the speech violates other students’ rights to exist in a safe and secure environment."

Given recent student sit-ins and protests against immigration policies, the fact that more than a third of Liberty high school's student population is of Hispanic origin, the school said they could therefore reasonably predict that Barnes’ shirt could potentially lead to disruptive actions and cause others to feel unsafe.

Hillsboro School District said while they support free speech and healthy debate they also have to ensure each student feels welcome and safe in their schools.

"I brought this case to stand up for myself and other students who might be afraid to express their right-of-center views," Barnes said in a statement released by his attorneys, "Everyone knows that if a student wears an anti-Trump shirt to school, the teachers won’t think twice about it. But when I wore a pro-Trump shirt, I got suspended. That’s not right."