Saturday, September 14, 2002

School settles suit over flag T-shirt

By The Associated Press

        RICHMOND, Ky. - A central Kentucky school board and a former student have settled a lawsuit the student filed after he and another student were suspended in 1997 for wearing T-shirts with an image of the Confederate flag.

        The Madison County school board agreed Thursday to amend its dress code and to consider a “student's purpose” when determining whether clothing is inappropriate, according to the settlement.

        Timothy Castorina and a friend, Tiffany Dargavell, said they wore Hank Williams Sr. T-shirts that depicted the Confederate flag in the background to celebrate Mr. Williams' birthday. The two were suspended twice for wearing the shirts, and they eventually dropped out.

        The Thursday settlement says Mr. Castorina, then a junior, “was expressing his admiration for country musician Hank Williams Sr.” when he wore the shirt. Ms. Dargavell, who dropped out of the suit in 1999, was a freshman at the time.

        The school board punished the students based on a policy that said it could ban any clothing containing any “illegal, immoral or racist implications.”

        The new amendment to the dress code bans “rude” decals, slogans, pictures on clothes and clothes that are “racially or sexually offensive.”

        But the amendment says nothing about Confederate flags, and it is not clear whether students who now wear images of the flag would be violating the dress code.

        Madison County schools superintendent Mike Caudill said Friday that he couldn't talk about the settlement, or explain the Confederate flag issue.

        The board issued a short statement Thursday, saying the settlement “speaks for itself.”

        The settlement says the board will apply new criteria when considering controversial clothing. The criteria include considering “the student's purpose in wearing the subject clothing.”

        The settlement says students would be able to appeal dress code rulings to the superintendent.

        Mr. Castorina also agreed not to sue the school board or former principal William Fultz.

        The suit reached the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in March 2001. That court reinstated the suit after a federal judge threw it out. U.S. District Judge Henry Wilhoit Jr. had ruled in 1999 that T-shirts were not a form of speech.


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