TRI in the News


'Virginity' Shirts Stir Dispute


,
May 21, 2008

From Daily Progress
Original article available here.


The Albemarle school division denied Thursday an allegation that officials at Albemarle High School warned female students not to wear T-shirts promoting abstinence.

That allegation was made by the Rutherford Institute -- a national nonprofit legal organization based in Charlottesville dedicated to the defense of civil liberties -- in a letter sent to Superintendent Pam Moran on Thursday morning. The Rutherford Institute is representing an AHS student.

The T-shirts read "Virginity rocks" on the front and "I'm loving my husband and I haven't even met him! MyLifeMyCall.com" on the back. The shirts are part of a campaign by Worth Your Wait, a nonprofit abstinence education group based in Ruckersville.

In the letter to Moran, John Whitehead, the president and founder of the Rutherford Institute, threatened legal action if students are not allowed to wear the T-shirts.

But a statement released Thursday afternoon by the school division said that the T-shirts are acceptable and that no warnings or other administrative actions against students had taken place.

According to the school division's version of events, several AHS students wearing the T-shirts asked Principal Matt Haas in April if the shirts were acceptable. Haas said they were.

"I appreciate the opportunity to share the full facts of this situation, and can assure our students and their parents that Albemarle County Public Schools works very hard to protect all the rights of our students, including free expression, as we strive to provide a positive and productive learning environment," Moran said in a statement.

Whitehead agreed that Haas acknowledged the students' right to wear the T-shirts. But several lower-level school employees at AHS continued to tell students to cover up the T-shirts, he said.

"Where there is smoke, there is fire," Whitehead said.

Whitehead claimed victory Thursday evening and said that no legal action would be taken as long as students are allowed to wear the shirts.

"We're happy that school officials agree with us and the students can wear the shirts," he said. "The schools can't fight us on this because the law is on our side. If the schools stick to allowing the shirts, we'll be fine. But if they divert from it, we'll be back."

Abstinence is part of the sex education curriculum throughout the state of Virginia.

Whitehead also said that a student at Charlottesville High School was asked to cover up a "Virginity rocks" T-shirt.

City schools spokeswoman Cass Cannon could not confirm that claim but added that school officials were not even aware of the T-shirts until media inquiries on the issue began coming in Thursday.

This is not the first time that a T-shirt has caused a controversy in the area. In 2002, Alan Newsom, then a student at Jack Jouett Middle School, sued the county school system after being forced to turn a National Rifle Association T-shirt inside out. The shirt bore silhouettes of three target shooters and the words "NRA Sports Shooting Camp."

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the dress code at Jouett -- which banned clothing with images of weapons -- was too broad. Newsom reached a private settlement with the school system and the dress code was changed to allow images of weapons as long as the weapons are not displayed in an unlawful, violent or threatening manner.