School Board Treads Lightly After Principal Bullies Student

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com October 20 2011 2:42 PM ET

The Monroe County Board of Education in Tennessee is reviewing its dress code after high school student Chris Sigler was allegedly harassed by his principal for wearing a t-shirt that read, "Gay Straight Alliance: We've Got Your Back" in support of establishing a GSA at his school.

Earlier this year, Sigler and other students collected 150 signatures on a petition to form a club at Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, Tenn, but a counter-group of students started circulating their own petition against the GSA. Principal Maurice Moser then announced that any students discussing the GSA on school grounds would face punishment. Students were also told they could not form the club without a faculty sponsor. Several teachers initially stepped forward with interest in sponsoring the club, but they all withdrew their interest after a meeting with Moser.

“A lot of kids get harassed at our school because they’re gay or they have gay friends, and we just want a space where we can all support each other and do something positive,” Sigler said Wednesday, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is assisting Sigler and other students form GSA

On Sept. 27, Sigler wore the shirt in protest. He was told to cover up the shirt, but two days later he wore the shirt again.

That's when Moser came to Sigler's economic class in the middle of an exam, and demanded that all other students leave the room, he said. Sigler's sister Jessica refused to leave. Both siblings said Moser grabbed Chris's arm, shoved him against a wall, and chest-bumped him several times, while asking, "Who's the big man now?" The attack ended when Sigler's mother arrived at the school to find Moser leaning over her son, shouting in his face. Moser eventually agreed not to formally suspend Chris, stipulating that the student leave the school grounds for the remainder of the day.

 According to the ACLU, public high school students have a First Amendment right to express themselves through clothing, as long as the messages they send do not cause a “substantial disruption” to instruction at school. Students also may not be censored by teachers and administrators based on the content of their opinions or statements.

“While it’s encouraging that the school district has vowed to review its dress code, Sequoyah High School still lacks a safe place where LGBT students and their peers can gather to support each other,” said Amanda Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “The events of the last few weeks show that the need for a GSA is greater than ever, and that the school needs to take seriously its obligation to protect all students from harassment and bullying.”