The School District of Manatee County is reviewing a claim that it selectively enforced the dress code at Braden River High School, and that it violated students' rights by calling for a stop to the ensuing protest.
In a letter sent on Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union said Lizzy Martinez, 17, was "mortified" when officials at Braden River High School told her to cover her nipples with bandages after she wore a long-sleeve shirt and no bra to class. The ACLU said Martinez's school, like other campuses around the country, has disproportionately targeted female students for dress code violations.
Mitchell Teitelbaum, general counsel for the school district, responded in a letter on Tuesday. Citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, he said the district would not discuss individual students, nor would it speak on "potential litigation."
"The District’s review of your letter and the allegations it contains is continuing," he wrote. "So far, numerous alleged facts contained therein are disputed, including, inaccurate and misleading allegations against the school administration that led to your legal conclusions."
Teitelbaum's letter did not elaborate on what allegations the district found to be false. He said the review is ongoing, and that a formal response would later be sent to the ACLU.
Martinez has said male students avoid discipline when their nipples are seen through the fabric of their shirts, whereas her nipples were deemed a distraction. The ACLU said Braden River administrators violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by treating male and female students differently.
Such "sex discrimination," the letter states, may also violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and the Florida Educational Equity Act.
According to the ACLU, the district also violated students' First Amendment rights when it spoke out against protests or other demonstrations, possibly putting a damper on the "bracott" organized by Martinez.
"Courts have long recognized that students retain their First Amendment rights to protest on school grounds so long as their activities do not cause a 'material and substantial interference with schoolwork or discipline,' " the ACLU said in its letter.
The bracott, along with any other demonstration, could interfere with ongoing studying and testing as the school year comes to an end, the district has said.
"While we recognize that students of Manatee County do not leave their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse steps, the District constantly encourages students to embrace their freedom of expression, but within the bounds of the law," Teitelbaum said in his response on Tuesday.