school bullying

The Stupid First Amendment Argument Being Used To Punish Michigan Teacher Jay McDowell

In reprimanding Michigan high school teacher Jay McDowell for telling a student his anti-gay comments were unacceptable and having him leave the class, administrators said his actions “could be construed as teacher-to-student bullying; ironic of the anti-bullying message of the day. Your demonstration of intolerance stands in contradistinction of the anti-bullying message of the day.” Both McDowell and the Howell Education Association, of which he is president, are calling bullshit.

What the nine-year Howell High School teacher McDowell did was confront student Dan Glowacki’s belief that wearing a Confederate flag belt buckle — to many, a sign of racist support — was the equivalent of people wearing purple in support of LGBT youth. For that, McDowell was suspended for a day without pay; he’s appealing. But McDowell, who’s filing a grievance contesting the district’s decision, says the school district’s report, which blames the incident squarely on the teacher, is a “complete fabrication” of what transpired.

“You disciplined them in anger under the guise of harassment and bullying because you opposed their religious belief and were offended by it,” the reprimand letter continues. “The students were causing no disruption to the educational process” — a clear nod to students’ First Amendment protections, which are limited in schools only by disruption of normal school activity. Part of McDowell’s punishment calls for him to attend First Amendment protection training. Hah.

So how did McDowell start this all off? By wearing a purple t-shirt, the letter from Principal Aaron Moran and Deputy Superintendent Sandra Moore says. That forced students to ask him about what it meant — and now, rather than treating it as an opportunity to teach students about the dangers of LGBT bullying, they’re attacking a guy who’s actually trying to foster an environment of acceptance. The purple shirt, says the school, was controversial — so much so McDowell is now barred from engaging with students in “controversial issues.”

Most shockingly, besides the school district saying a teacher violated a student’s First Amendment rights (and thus setting itself up for one helluva lawsuit from the student’s parents), the school sides with racism over tolerance. “You also state you routinely do not allow this expression in your classroom because it offends you, and you personally connect this symbol to a list of oppressions and atrocities,” the district writes in the letter. “You do, however, allow the display of the rainbow flag, to which some of your students have voiced opposition.” A clear opportunity to embrace cultural identities, lost amidst this “controversy.” But let’s give McDowell the last word, because he deserves it: “[T]he district has for the last year asked students to remove Confederate flags that have flown from the back of cars and trucks in the school parking lot. The reprimand states that the wearing of the Confederate flag and the statement, ‘I don’t accept gays,’ did not cause a substantial disruption to the educational process and, therefore, I violated the students’ First Amendment rights. I disagree. I believe any symbol or speech that can cause a student to sit in fear in the classroom whether or not there is an outward show of that fear is by its very nature a disruption to the educational process.” [Livingston Daily]

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  • Kev C

    Michigan shools are for selling meth and listening to Kid Rock, not for education, Jay.

  • Brian Miller

    Fantastic! Let’s take this precedent to school and promote atheism and preach about the evils of religion!

  • thedarkchariot

    God, I really feel for this guy. What a horrible school district. Michigan? Really? You’d think this has to be super deep south…wait what? Confederate flags in Michigan?

  • the crustybastard

    The school district analogizes the rainbow flag to the Confederate flag?

    Well, that’s…puzzling.

    Is it because of the four-year long Great Gay Insurrection that split the country and cost 650 thousand lives, or is it because the rainbow flag represents centuries of institutionalized enslavement, brutalization and bigotry against heterosexuals, perpetrated by gays?

    What? It’s because they’re both…flags?

    Um, you do realize, Principal Moran, that flags are intended to represent…oh fuck it. You don’t, do you?


  • Kev C

    @thedarkchariot: Howell also has a racism problem. Howell school computers were used to start an online hate group called “Rebel and Proud”, which contained pictures and hate speech from Howell students.

  • Daez

    The confederate flag should be seen as a symbol of free speech. Like it or not, someone should have the right in this country to say that they are a racist or that they are homophobic just as much as someone should have the right to say they love black people and gays. That is what the first amendment actually stands for.

    Its also about time we get over this trend of teachers needing to bring things into the classroom that absolutely don’t belong there. High school classrooms are for education and learning not for forwarding political/social agendas. Save the talk of political and social agendas for college not fifth grade and high school.

  • B

    Well, one question that hasn’t been asked is why the kid was wearing a confederate-flag belt buckle. Was he supporting racism or was he just clueless, associating the flag with being a “rebel” and not knowing the historical use of a confederate flag as a symbol for the support of racism? It’s relevant as to how to educate such kids. Also, if the school has a bullying problem, the reason he might be wearing it is to look a bit hard core so that others would leave him alone and pick on someone else.

    Aside from the symbol, the kid apparently indicated he didn’t support gays. If he used a slur to express that opinion, there could be a reason to kick him out of class (it might depend on whether he used it out of malice or just ignorance, not realizing that others found it offensive).

  • Kev C

    @the crustybastard: All the bullying, racism and homophobia at Howell HS began when they hired A. Moran to run the school in 2008.

  • T

    As much as I abhor the rhetoric from the close minded if they are merely dissenting they have that right. When it crosses into harassment and violence is when it should be curtailed.

    The flag comparison is ridiculous. The LGBT community has never launched a civil war, enslaved people, or created a legacy of hate that still lingers. We merely want equality. Civil rights vs. violence. Someone is grasping at straws. :(

  • SteveC

    Is my ‘right’ to wear a ‘Jesus is a Cunt’ t-shirt protected by the 1st Anedment?

  • B

    No. 10 · SteveC wrote, “Is my ‘right’ to wear a ‘Jesus is a Cunt’ t-shirt protected by the 1st Anedment?”

    In fact, the First Amendment does give you a right to wear such a tee shirt. Bad taste is not illegal. Your employer, however, can probably ban such shirts from his business (but not what you do on your own time) on the grounds that he doesn’t want to offend Christian customers, and a church could probably kick you out if you wore one there.

  • Andreusz

    The only restriction on free speech should be ‘no threats or incitements to violence’. So if someone says, ‘I hate gays’, that’s their right, no matter how much we dislike it. But if they say ‘we should all beat up gays’, that should be forbidden.
    Remember, accepting the right to free speech means accepting other people’s right to say things you don’t like. I live in a country (South Africa) where the government doesn’t understand this, and wants to curb all criticism of itself, so this is a very important issue for me.

  • Brian Miller


    In fact, the First Amendment does give you a right to wear such a tee shirt.

    I think his point is that the school would not allow students to wear such a tee shirt and would reject First amendment arguments claiming a student should be able to wear such a shirt. The argument from the principal is hypocritical.

    And objectively speaking, the Confederate flag is roughly analogous to the Swastika of Nazi Germany.

  • B

    No. 13 · Brian Miller wrote, “I think his point is that the school would not allow students to wear such a tee shirt and would reject First amendment arguments claiming a student should be able to wear such a shirt. The argument from the principal is hypocritical.”

    Read :
    ‘The clash between students’ rights of free expression and the responsibility of public-school authorities to provide a safe learning environment is the central issue in the debate over dress-code policy. … “Any dress restriction that infringes on a student’s First Amendment rights must be justified by a showing that the student’s attire materially disrupts school operations, infringes on the rights of others at the school, or otherwise interferes with any basic educational mission of the school” (Grantham 1994). To defend its action if challenged in court, a state must carefully define its interest when authorizing school districts to implement mandatory uniform policies. Policy-makers must be able to document that a problem exists (Paliokos and others).’

    Brian then came up with a non sequitur: “And objectively speaking, the Confederate flag is roughly analogous to the Swastika of Nazi Germany.”

    In fact, I was clearly replying to No 10, which I quoted and which involved a tee shirt offensive to Christians that had nothing to do with a Confederate flag. If you are interested
    in any symbolism regarding the Confederate flag, read – it seems different people have different ideas about what it represents, with some associating it with a low point in U.S. history and others having quite a different interpretation (BTW, the author of this article thinks the Confederate flag should not be used due to its negative connotations being too entrenched).

  • Bryce

    Well the Confederate flag is not a religious symbol. That part confused me. Confused is the wrong word I get it completely. Its total bullshit. There is no freedom of speech in school. No one questions the right of teachers to not allow and discipline the use of profanity

  • DavidUK84

    “You disciplined them in anger under the guise of harassment and bullying because you opposed their religious belief and were offended by it,”

    Spot on.

    Well done Howell High School for standing up to this sanctimonious little ***** and his bullying and anti-democratic mentality. Debate of this kind is what teachers should be encouraging, not stamping on under some feeble pretence that amounts to “if I don’t like it I’ll call it a hate crime”.

  • W.

    Bryce is right, a school environment is not a place of full free speech, as a student you can be punished for swearing, for bullying, for wearing a hat, some schools have very strict dress codes for modesty, or not allowed to wear clothing with brand names of alcohol/cigarettes, or clothing with swears and and reference to sexual acts, all just to name a few I remember from my old high school. Hate speech included.

    David, I have not yet seen a quote anywhere that mentions religious belief being brought in to this, just a confederate flag belt buckle and a student mouthing off a slur to a teacher.

    But if that is what passes as religion now a days, no wonder many Americans are leaving the churches.

  • MarianneXX

    What you have written here is wuite interesting.I’ll come to check your posts more often. Great info. I wish I could post messages in such interesting way. :)
    Tapety na pulpit

  • d

    the confederate flag is not considered racist. its part of history. if African Americans have a problem with the flag then they have big problems. slaves got there freedom and everything else during the civil war. Its not a sign of racism at all. people need to understand that. the school has put it in students heads that the confederatle flag is racist when it is clearly not. alot of african americans actually fought on the confederat side so how is it racist?

  • d

    your right about the confederate flag about not being a irreligious symbol. but schools are sopose to follow the Ammendemnts and Espically the first amendment. the reason why schools not really follow them is because no student body is brave enough to face the school bored and speak there mind. because the student body has been scared in to not doing so from punishment (iss, oss, detention) The schools need to practice the amendments more. and not just toss hem to the side like they have been doing

  • Adam

    Listen I’m a sophomore at this school and for the love of god PLEASE don’t think we’re all like this. It’s really not a bad school it’s actually listed as one of the best and only a very small minority of students are like this. I just want to apologize on the behalf of my school….

  • Andrew

    @SteveC: Yes and No. If wearing such shirt would disrupt the educational process (see the Tinker v. Des Moines, 1969), then the school could ban you from wearing the shirt on school property.

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