STC North students set to address school board about offensive shirts

ST. CHARLES – More than 150 Facebook users – presumably mostly St. Charles North High School students – have said they will attend next month's Board of Education meeting to address the "Straight Pride" shirts some students wore this week and how the administration handled the situation.

"We do not, as a student body, tolerate bullying and harassment happening at our school, and we want better plans in action for how to deal with situations like this," said senior Amanda Harshbarger, the creator of the Facebook event titled "SCN Students Against Bullying at CUSD 303 School Board Meeting."

Board president Scott Nowling said, to his knowledge, the topic will not be an item on the Dec. 13 agenda, but students are welcome to speak during public comment.

The board does not respond to items brought up during public comment. However, Nowling said, members wishing to pursue the matter can bring it up during new business. The topic would then be directed to a committee, he said.

Controversy began Monday when, district officials said, three students came to school wearing shirts that said, "Straight Pride," on the front and quoted a Bible verse from Leviticus on the back that referenced death as the punishment for homosexual behavior.

Monday was also the beginning of the school's Ally Week. Harshbarger, a straight student in the Gay Straight Alliance, said the club intended to use the week to address bullying in general. Students on Monday were asked to wear purple shirts to raise awareness about the recent suicides of gay teens, she said.

The Biblical reference was particularly upsetting to students, she said.

"People saw that as a potential threat and extremely intimidating," Harshbarger said.

The students wearing the shirts were not punished. Rather, officials said, administrators told the students they had a right to express an opinion and belief, but they needed to be sensitive to how that message is perceived others.

Officials said the students were allowed to wear the shirts for the rest of the day – an allowance Harshbarger said she did not understand since she once waited for a relative to bring her pants to change into when a skirt was deemed too short.

On Tuesday, two students wore homemade "Straight Pride" shirts – without the Bible verse – beneath sweatshirts they later took off, district spokesperson Jim Blaney said.

He said wearing such shirts is OK, but in this instance the "demonstrative" way in which the students unveiled and called attention to the shirts was not OK.

"It's certainly OK to express your opinion," Blaney said, "but when you do it in such a way to call attention to the message, then that's when other people might view it as offensive."

At that point, Blaney said, it is the educators' responsibility to step in and tell the students they shouldn't support a cause in such a way that demeans another.

Students can wear clothing with positive messages about being straight or gay as long as they do not draw attention to themselves, Blaney said.

He was not aware of any "Straight Pride" shirts worn Wednesday or Thursday.

Harshbarger said the environment at the school remains tense.

"The main idea is to figure out ways in which we can have the students as a school learn to respect each other no matter what their views are," she said.