At Charles Carroll High School in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, 16-year-old Samantha Pawlucy was publicly disparaged and embarrassed for wearing a Mitt Romney shirt.
After wearing a pink Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan t-shirt on dress-down day at Charles Carroll High School, 16-year-old Samantha Pawlucy was told by her geometry teacher “to take off [her] shirt” and “get out of the classroom.” Pawlucy’s teacher went on to analogize the Romney t-shirt to a t-shirt bearing the symbol KKK. Subsequent to the public disparagement, Pawlucy stated “I didn’t know what to think, I didn’t think it was right at all.”
Following the incident, Pawlucy and her parents requested to meet with the principal and teacher. During the meeting, the teacher explained that the remarks to Pawlucy were merely meant as harmless pranks. However, Pawlucy was deeply embarrassed by the statement made in front of all of her classmates. Pawlucy’s father, Richard Pawlucy, stated “If it was a joke between two adults, I can take a joke like that but (my daughter) didn’t know how to take it. She doesn’t understand, she actually thinks she did something wrong.” Pawlucy’s mother, Christine Pawlucy, goes on to state that “I can just picture her sitting there, feeling ashamed for just wearing a t-shirt.”
Wearing the Romney t-shirt is considered protected speech under the First Amendment. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, students were suspended for wearing black bands to school symbolizing their disapproval of the Vietnam War. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the wearing of a black arm band is considered free speech under the First Amendment. The Court noted that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
If your institution has any further questions or concerns about First Amendment rights or protected speech in education, or education law related matters, please email James G. Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (516) 357-3750.
A special thanks to Laura DeLuca, a law clerk at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for help with this post.
 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 514 (1969).
 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969).