A middle school student in California, named J.A., had an unexpected turn of events during a football game that turned what should have been a fun night into a nightmare ban for showing team spirit. The eighth-grader went to the game with dark face paint on to support his team, which the school administration thought was rude. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) stepped in to protect J.A.'s First Amendment rights and fight what they saw as the unfair ban.
J.A.'s dad said the game was fun and everyone had a good time. He even got advice from a black security guard to put on more face paint. A week later, though, the director of Muirland Middle School told J.A.'s family in a meeting that he would be suspended for two days and not be able to play in any more sports. The notice of discipline said that by painting his face black, J.A. made a "offensive comment with the intent to harm."
— New York Post (@nypost) November 13, 2023
It is said that Principal Jeff Luna said the face paint was insulting because the other team, Morse High School, is "largely black." In answer, FIRE said the face paint wasn't "blackface," but rather a style that athletes and fans often use to show team spirit, stressing that it wasn't based on race. In this case, they said that wearing eye black is a regular trend at sporting events and doesn't have anything to do with race.
Aaron Terr, who is in charge of public advocacy for FIRE, said that J.A.'s face paint didn't get in the way of anything at the game or at school later. He used the important Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines to defend students' First Amendment rights and say that schools can't limit what students say because of unfounded fears. Terr asked the school to say again that it would follow the rules set out in the First Amendment.
The San Diego Unified School District refused to overturn J.A.'s ban, even though FIRE pushed for it. This case shows how important it is to protect students' right to say what they think without fear of unfair results. The fact that J.A. was punished by his school for showing harmless team pride makes people worry about the state of free speech in schools.