A Texas 7th grader isn’t being allowed to wear his Star Wars shirt to school because it dared to feature a stormtrooper holding a blaster. From ABC-13 in Houston (emphasis mine).

On Thursday, though, school officials told Colton the shirt was banned because it has a gun, or at least a picture of what in the movie is weapon.

“It’s political correctness run amok. You’re talking about a Star Wars t-shirt, a week before the biggest movie of the year comes out. It has nothing to do with guns or making a stand. It’s just a Star Wars shirt,” [ father Joe ] Southern said.

A spokesperson for Lamar Consolidated Independent School District says the LCISD secondary school handbook spells out potential violations of dress code. The list includes “symbols oriented toward violence.”

This is more ridiculous than midi-chlorians and Anakin Skywalker’s immaculate conception. There’s no way this shirt can be seen as inspiring violence because it features a stormtrooper. Everyone knows stormtroopers are the worst shots in the galaxy, so there’s no way anyone wearing a stormtrooper shirt actually wants to promote violence.It’d be like suggesting a kid was promoting death for wearing a plain red shirt to school..

Sarcasm aside, think about what this really means for kids in Lamar CISD. No kid can wear a Star Wars shirt to school because the characters are mostly seen holding weapons. This means no Boba Fett, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewie, or Yoda shirts are allowed in school. So unless the shirts just feature the Star Wars outline or the symbols of the Rebel Alliance or Galactic Empire, they’re banned. Even shirts with the Millenium Falcon or X-wings and TIE Fighters wouldn’t be allowed because they feature turrets which are “symbols oriented towards violence.” The district might as well ban shirts featuring superheroes like Iron Man (because of his hand blasters), Thor (because of Mjolnir the hammer), Batman (those batarangs hurt), Rocket Raccoon (blasters), Punisher (guns), Green Lantern (the ring is a weapon), Wonder Woman (that lasso), Green Arrow (bow and arrow), and Wolverine (because of his claws) because they have “symbols oriented towards violence.” The district might as well ban Doctor Who t-shirts too because of that blasted sonic screwdriver and the Daleks.

This is why zero tolerance rules don’t work. A. Barton Hinkle wrote in Reason last year just how stupid zero tolerance policies are and thinks they need to be thrown out.

First, they ignore blatantly obvious distinctions. Gnawing a Pop-Tart into the rough silhouette of a gun does not turn it into a firearm. Breath mints are not a Schedule I narcotic. Fingers don’t fire projectiles
.
Second, zero-tolerance policies don’t prevent the incidents they are designed to prevent. Deeply disturbed individuals who commit school massacres—the Dylan Klebolds and Adam Lanzas of the world—are not deterred by rules, and they do not commit mayhem with soap bubbles. So a rule that bans soap-bubble guns in school has zero effect on school violence.

School officials will reply that they have to apply school policies consistently: A knife is a knife, and knives are weapons, even when they are used to spread butter. Nonsense. By that logic everyone on the wrestling team should be suspended for fighting, and a student who sketches a rifle should be punished for “drawing a gun” (which has actually happened more than once).

It’s great that a school district here and there has second thoughts about first-strike policies. But that doesn’t solve the broader problem, which is rooted in a bureaucratic compliance mentality…

If the district really wanted to make sure no kids wore “t-shirts which promoted violence” they’d just require all students to wear uniforms or collared shirts. That’s the simplest way to solve the problem, even if the constitutionality of school uniforms is questionable. I tend to fall into the “school uniforms are fine if it’s a private school” category, but am a little hesitant to apply them to public schools. Kids should be able to express themselves, as long as they aren’t harming anyone else. I can understand why a school might want to ban shirts featuring bad language, a Nazi or USSR symbol, or gang signs, but isn’t free speech free speech? The First Amendment Center looked at how inconsistent courts have been on school dress in 2002.

Dress-code opponents emphasize that students convey a multitude of messages on their clothing, ranging from political slogans, music lyrics, and support for a favorite athletic team. They argue that school officials cannot censor student expression unless they can show that the clothing will disrupt the school environment. They contend that Tinker stands for the fundamental principle that students have the right to wear clothing with messages, just as the students in the 1960s could wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.

However, those who favor dress codes cite a specific passage from Tinker in support of their position. In Tinker, the Court wrote: “The problem posed by the present case does not relate to regulation of the length of skirts or the type of clothing, to hair style or deportment.” Yet opponents seize on this language to emphasize that even Tinker recognized that disputes over types of clothing do not raise the same free-speech interests as regulation of the type of expression at issue with armbands.

This debate isn’t going to go away anytime soon, but when it comes to the Star Wars stormtrooper shirt debate Brendan Loy is right:

It’s time to get rid of zero tolerance policies. They’re anti-freedom and just an attempt for more control. School districts can try to claim they’re meant to protect students, but they hurt more than help. There needs to be more wiggle room for teachers, students and administrators when it comes to applying zero tolerance rules. If there isn’t, then stupid situations like the one involving Colton Southern will just keep happening.