Education • Mother irritated that 12-year-old son wasn't allowed to wear a breast cancer awareness bracelet at school, adminstrator says school is now reconsidering.
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Jena van Frankenhuijsen didn't think sending her 12-year-old son to school wearing an "I d boobies" bracelet would land her in the principal's office.
But the Provo mother found herself picking up her son's rubber wrist band at Westridge Elementary School recently, after it was confiscated and deemed too risque for the classroom.
It's a situation that infuriates van Frankenhuijsen, who doesn't see the point in banning a bracelet during "Pinktober," when charities and businesses publicize breast cancer awareness with everything from pink-colored egg cartons to the "boobies" bracelets.
Van Frankenhuijsen said the school's assistant principal told her that her son's bracelet was taken away because "it confuses younger children" at the school a reason she disagrees with.
"I said there is no dress code stating they cannot wear a bracelet that supports breast cancer research," she said. "Yes, I understand the snicker factor of wearing something that says 'boobies' when you are a 12-year-old boy. However, the more they make a big deal about it, the more the boys want to do it. I support my kid wearing that bracelet."
Greg Hudnall, associate superintendent in the Provo School District, said the bracelet was confiscated to make sure the wording didn't make other students particularly girls going through puberty uncomfortable.
"Students are allowed to wear those bracelets or wherever. We just don't want them to be distracting," said Hudnall. "All it takes is one student running around and putting it in the face of a fifth-grade girl."
The controversy isn't the first in Utah. In 2010, Hunter High student Corbin Barber, 17, won the right to wear a bracelet containing the word "boobies."
Barber, of West Valley City, gave bracelets to his friends near the time his aunt was recovering from breast cancer. A committee of teachers and an assistant principal deemed them "not appropriate," but the school relented after the students sought help from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.
"[Schools] can regulate political or religious speech only if it is lewd or vulgar, or if it would cause a substantial and material disruption in school," Darcy Goddard, the former legal director of Utah's chapter of the ACLU argued in 2010. "It's a stretch, at best, to argue that another word for the female breast is either lewd or vulgar."
Hudnall said the district doesn't limit students from wearing T-shirts, rings and bracelets touting breast cancer messages. But students in high school, he added, may have a different maturity level for dealing with an "I d boobies" bracelet.
"The question is more at the elementary level, of what's appropriate," said Hudnall. "What people don't realize is we get complaints from other parents [upset about the bracelets being allowed] ... It's a fine line you walk as an organization."
Some bracelets raise money for the Keep a Breast Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that funds research and education programs although many imposters have popped up with proceeds that don't go to a charity. The foundation sees the accessories as conversation starters, using language that dispels some of the scariness associated with cancer, spokeswoman Kimmy McAtee, has said.
The organization's website, www.keep-a-breast.org, acknowledges that bans on its trendy bracelets have occurred across the country.
Van Frankenhuijsen said she will continue to fight for her son's right to wear his bracelet at school even if that means returning each day because a teacher has asked him to remove it.
"It is good that the kids will go home and ask questions; maybe it will get parents talking more to their kids," she said.
Hudnall said the school's principal in the future plans to allow students like van Frankenhuijsen's son to wear the bracelets as long as they're not disruptive. Although van Frankenhuij-sen's son wasn't taunting classmates with the bracelet, that possibility is always there with middle school students, Hudnall said.
"They're 12-year-old boys," he said. "I'll leave the rest up to your imagination."
Pushing back on pink
Some women and advocates question the point of "Pinktober" and the tide of pink products that surges each October. Meet Utahn Beverly Brehl, who is fighting metastatic breast cancer, and read our recent story here.