CELINA — Celina schools officials said they didn’t step on anyone’s rights to freedom of speech when asking students to remove homemade T-shirts supporting gay, lesbian and bisexual classmates.
“We are not violating anyone’s freedom of speech or any gay or lesbian rights either,” Superintendent Jesse Steiner said. “The only time we talk to students about what they are wearing is if it is disrupting the educational process.”
Students say the shirts were not distracting or disruptive and believe they were asked to remove them largely because of politics.
“Celina is Republican. Our school has a Republican group and a pro-life group, but they don’t have any groups for Democrats or people like that,” said sophomore Cheyenna Osborne. “I feel like they made us take off our clothing because it did not agree with everyone else.”
Steiner said students were asked if they would remove the shirts, not forced to. All removed the shirts, he said, without a problem. No one was disciplined, he added.
“That does not mean they [students] were thrilled about that, but we are here to provide the best education possible,” he said. “We want everyone to feel safe and welcome here. Sometimes there are things that happen and distractions and we try to do what is best for everybody. This was one of those situations where we were trying to do what is best for everybody.”
The shirts were causing talk at the school and were disrupting learning, Steiner said. He said it had nothing to do with the message or what was written on the shirts.
“It is true with anything that someone wears. If we are not able to educate like we normally do, it is a distraction,” he said. “This is about dress code.”
A photograph of a T-shirt sent to The Lima News reads “Straight But Supportive” on one side and “I Support,” and “Express Yourself” with a rainbow on the other side. Cheyenna said the shirts came after two female students were made to remove other shirts with the word “lesbian” written on them a few days earlier.
“We decided to all make shirts supporting gay rights because those two girls felt like the school did not want them,” she said.
Cheyenna said 20 students wore the shirts in support, but that 67 signed up to get them when available. More requested them Wednesday. Steiner said only about 10 wore the shirts.
Steiner said conversations have taken place as to how students might be able to be supportive and express themselves about the issue without causing a distraction. He would not elaborate any further. Cheyenna said she hadn’t heard of any conversation. Students are still considering wearing the shirts again in the future.
“We are tired of the school letting certain things fly and not others,” she said. “If it is Republican, it is acceptable. If it is Democratic, it is not. But this is not about politics and religion. It is about equal rights.”