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Wisconsin students sue schools over right to wear gun T-shirts

Students at two Wisconsin schools filed lawsuits after they said they were banned from wearing gun-related T-shirts to school.
/ Source: TODAY

Students at two Wisconsin schools filed lawsuits this month alleging their rights were violated after they were chastised for wearing firearms-related T-shirts to school.

The first lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, details the experiences of two students at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales, Wisconsin.

Both students, who are not named in the lawsuit and are represented as plaintiffs by their parents, wore gun-related shirts to school on Feb. 19 and said they were asked to cover them up.

Two students at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales, Wisconsin, said they were asked to cover up their T-shirts. One shirt shows a gun and "Wisconsin Carry Inc." The other shirt shows a gun and the words "Pew Professional."John Monroe

The first shirt says "Wisconsin Carry Inc.," the name of a grassroots organization that advocates for expanded gun rights. The shirt included the group's logo and what appears to be a handgun in a holster tucked behind the inscription. The second student wore a shirt that included an assault rifle that looks like an AR-15 across the chest and the words, "Pew Professional."

The complaint alleges that the shirts promote "responsible firearm use through improving marksmanship."

In a letter sent to parents last Friday and obtained by TODAY, Pat Deklotz, superintendent of the Kettle Moraine School District, said the school could not directly comment on a matter "relating to particular students."

"We can say it has been recognized by courts that the district has legitimate pedagogical concerns in preventing violence in its schools, and we take that concern seriously," Deklotz said. "Wearing shirts with images of weapons is not an issue of free speech and it can be respectfully regulated by the district. Please know that providing a safe learning environment for all students in our schools is always our priority."

Zack Zupke, director of communications for Kettle Moraine School District, added that the school has a history of supporting Second Amendment rights in a statement shared with TODAY.

"The lawsuit alleges a violation of a student’s first amendment right by restricting apparel that has images of guns. The lawsuit does not allege a violation of second amendment rights. In fact, the district has a long-standing record of supporting individuals as they exercise their second amendment rights," Zupke wrote. "We regularly offer hunter safety classes through Community Education. Our trap shooting club was one of the first formed in the state and their accomplishments in tournament play have been recognized by our School Board with pride."

The second incident happened on Feb. 11 at Shattuck Middle School in Neenah, Wisconsin. The unnamed student was sent to the principal's office over a dress code violation not related to the complaint. When the school called home, the student's mother sent her boyfriend to the school with a sweatshirt to cover up the original issue.

That sweatshirt depicts a "medieval helmet and two antique rifles with forks in place of muzzles," according to the complaint, along with a message: "I'm a Patriot. Weapons Are Part of My Religion."

A student at Shattuck Middle School in Neenah, Wisconsin, was asked to cover up a gun-related shirt. His mother's boyfriend brought him a sweatshirt that says, "I'm a Patriot. Weapons are Part of My Religion," and was told it was also not appropriate for school.John Monroe

When the student was told that the sweatshirt was still inappropriate for school, his mother's boyfriend pulled him out class for the day and took him home.

The next day, on Feb. 12, the student wore a Smith & Wesson shirt to school and was told that a shirt advertising the gun manufacturer was not appropriate and that he would need to cover it with a sweatshirt.

A representative for Shattuck Middle School did not immediately respond to a request from TODAY.

The school's dress code "reserves the right to ask a student to change or send students home if their appearance is not deemed appropriate," according to the complaint.