STARKE, Fla. – The parent of a Bradford Middle School student said her daughter was told by school leaders Tuesday to take off a face mask, which displayed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Jennifer Brown told News4Jax that her daughter, 12-year-old Deziyah Brown, was not given an immediate explanation as to why the mask was not allowed but that she was later told it was too political.
The black mask has the words “I can’t breathe,” printed in large, red letters followed by “Black Lives Matter” below in white letters.
“Her teacher told her to take it off,” Brown said. “She was, like, ‘You just have to take it off. We can’t wear that here.’”
While the Bradford County School District’s code of conduct does not specifically prohibit symbols of activism or political statements, it does grant administrators discretion to ban anything they deem disruptive to the learning environment.
When News4Jax asked administrators to explain their decision, Assistant Superintendent David Harris referred this reporter to a passage from the school district’s uniform section of its code of conduct, a policy that extends to face masks.
“The dress code is not inclusive of all items that may be deemed inappropriate,” the code states on pages 17 and 18. “The school administration may limit student attire any time such attire is believed to adversely affect classroom instruction or the school environment. Therefore any item that disrupts classroom instruction or the school campus will not be allowed.”
Brown said she believes the school district misused its discretion in this instance and, barring anything profane or sexually explicit, children should be able to wear what they want.
“This is America. It’s about freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of everything,” Brown said. “I feel like if they want to wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘All Lives Matter’ or ‘Blue Lives Matter,’ or whatever, I feel like they should be able to wear what they want.”
Attorney Gene Nichols, a partner at Nichols & Pina in Jacksonville, agreed with Brown, saying the school district’s characterization of the mask as disruptive was a stretch.
“It’s a little surprising the school made the decision that this statement, this mask was disruptive,” Nichols said. “As we have seen most of the time when this happens, the disruptive speech either on a T-shirt or a hat or some form of logo is usually something that is so outrageous that it stops schools, that it causes students to not learn, that it precludes people from being able to participate regularly in school. This mask consists of language we’re seeing every day in society.”
Though Nichols disagreed with the school district’s decision, he conceded that the district was within its authority to take the action it did.
Brown said her daughter was not offered a replacement mask when she was told to remove her own. The 12-year-old continued to wear the mask inside-out.
Bradford County strongly encourages the use of face masks by students but does not require it. Harris said the school district does have masks on hand for any student that wants to wear one.