PA Students Punished for Tweeting Criticism at Students Wearing Chick-fil-A Shirts

Fifteen students were suspended from Bangor Area High School after they took to Twitter to criticize two peers for wearing Chick-fil-A T-shirts during an LGBT event at their school.

Last week, the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance encouraged students to wear a different color shirt to school each day to raise awareness about certain issues affecting young people, like suicide and bullying. On Friday, they were to wear rainbow-colored garb to support the LGBT community.

According to The Morning Call, a live broadcast of announcements at the school that morning showed two male students wearing Chick-fil-A T-shirts. They didn’t make any comments about being anti-gay, but an organizer of the LGBT event, senior Erin Snyder, says she believes they knew what they were doing.

The appearance started quite the back-and-forth among students on Twitter. One person tweeted in defense of one of the boys wearing a Chick-fil-A tee, saying “You’re expressing your feelings … Why can’t he?” Snyder responded with: “Being an offensive asshole is not expressing your feelings.”

Another GSA member, Jeff Vanderpool, tweeted “Shout-out to the [expletive] in the Chik-fil-A shirts.” He told The Morning Call that he “wouldn’t be upset if they did it on a different day, but it was a day to not discriminate against LGBT students, and that’s what they were trying to do.”

When they returned to school on Monday, Snyder, Vanderpool and 13 other students were called in to the principal’s office and suspended for tweeting during school hours, and for using expletives in their tweets.

So far, the teens wearing the Chick-fil-A shirts haven’t faced punishment, which Vanderpool’s mother says is unfair: “You want to encourage everyone to be their own person, and for someone to decide it’s OK for those two students to go on a morning show and wear a shirt like that with no repercussions, what is the school saying? That it’s OK?,” she said.

The situation is currently being investigated by an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who calls the suspension a “pretty harsh punishment.” ACLU is looking in to whether or not the school violated the student’s free speech rights.

“If officials objected to the content of the tweets sent during school because they contained explicitly profane or sexually graphic language, that’s within the school’s power. … If officials objected to the tweets because they were touching on sexual topics, that’s not OK because students were discussing a political issue,” writes The Morning Call.

Former Equality PA president Adrian Shanker, who currently serves as Executive Director of the nearby Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Center, has also been asked to speak to school officials about how to curb bullying at the school, which has been somewhat of an issue there in the past.

“There’s a girl who wore a rainbow flag during LGBT awareness day and she was teased very badly for who she is,” one parent said. “I know there are some girls who want to wear tuxedos to the prom, but are worried they will be sent home because they are not in gender-appropriate wear, or they will be teased.”

Other than that, Snyder says her school is supportive of its LGBT students. Some students have even shown their support for the GSA by wearing rainbow ribbons and bracelets.

What do you think? Were the students in the wrong for tweeting? Should they have been punished? Do the boys wearing Chick-fil-A tees deserve suspension, too?

For more on the story, check out The Morning Call.