The Missouri student who filed a lawsuit after he was prohibited from wearing gay pride-themed T-shirts to class has dropped out of school, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union said. A lawyer for the Webb City R-7 School District said Brad Mathewson's decision on Thursday to leave school could derail the lawsuit, which claims school administrators violated his constitutional rights when they banned his shirts.
Chris Hampton, a spokeswoman for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, disagreed. She pointed to seven other high school students who were sent home November 30 after they refused to change out of the homemade T-shirts they wore to class in support of Mathewson, 16. The shirts bore messages such as "If this shirt offends you, look the other way" and "We support gay rights." "Brad's not the only student who has been censored," Hampton said.
Marion Mathewson said her son decided to drop out because his grades had suffered from missing too many days of classes and because he wanted to work full-time to help her. "I think he's a little discouraged," she said. She said Randy Richardson, assistant high school principal, was informed of
the decision Thursday. "He said Brad could come back after the Christmas break if he wished, but I
think Brad is going to go after his GED," his mother said. Mathewson, who was a junior, will remain in Webb City and will continue to press the lawsuit against the school district.
The school district's attorney, Tom Mickes, said Mathewson's withdrawal from school could cripple the suit. Since the youth did not seek damages from the district or lodge the complaint on behalf of anyone else, he may have forfeited legal standing when he ceased to be a student, Mickes said. The ACLU is basing its case on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in a 1969 case, Tinker v. Des Moines. In that case, the court ruled schools cannot force students to give up their right to freedom of expression. Superintendent Ron Lankford has said the school district can substantiate its claims that the shirts were disruptive and distracting, but he has not given details.
The issue first arose October 20 when Mathewson was sent to the principal's office after his homeroom teacher noticed he was wearing a shirt with the name of the gay-straight alliance at his old high school in Fayetteville, Ark., a pink triangle, and the words "Make a Difference!" The principal asked him to turn the shirt inside out or go home and change, citing concerns that it was inappropriate and may offend other students.