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West Valley City • Some teachers may find Corbin Barber's bracelets provocative, but Granite School District and the American Civil Liberties Union agree he has the right to wear them at Hunter High.
It's OK to say "I [heart] boobies."
As part of a national breast cancer awareness campaign aimed at youth, rubber wrist bands emblazoned with that message have become trendy teen wear. Sales of the brightly colored bracelets raise money for the Keep A Breast Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that funds research and education programs. The group sees the accessories as conversation starters, using language that dispels some of the scariness associated with cancer.
"Wearing these is going to help people be more open about it," says Barber, a 17-year-old senior at Hunter High. Near the time that his own aunt was recovering from breast cancer, Barber spotted the bracelets at Valley Fair Mall. He bought nine of the $4 bands so he could share with friends.
But Barber and other Hunter High students were dismayed when some teachers insisted the bracelets be removed.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, a committee of teachers and an assistant principal at Hunter High dispatched a Q-and-A to school staff that included an item about the "not appropriate" bracelets.
"Can we have them banned?" the document says. "They are banned!!! [sic] You can tell students to take them off."
The slogan has raised eyebrows on more than one school campus. In Pennsylvania, two middle school girls, represented by the ACLU, are suing the Easton Area School District after they were suspended for wearing the wrist bands.
Hunter High students shared their complaints with the ACLU of Utah, which in turn notified Granite Superintendent Martin Bates that the bracelet ban runs counter to the First Amendment.
"[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. That's what the Supreme Court has said about restricting students' free speech rights," says Darcy Goddard, legal director of ACLU of Utah. "It's a stretch, at best, to argue that another word for the female breast is either lewd or vulgar."
Bates agreed. He let all of the district's secondary school principals know they were not allowed to ban "I [heart] boobies" bracelets or T-shirts.
"That's within the bounds of a student's First Amendment rights," says Ben Horsley, Granite spokesman. "We understand some people might find the message offensive, but we really have no ability to do anything about that. … These are bracelets and, frankly, we're causing more distraction by paying attention to it."
Kimmy McAtee, Keep A Breast spokeswoman, says she's surprised by the number of banning incidents she has heard about nationwide.
"We never expected people to feel anything but really empowered by the bracelets. It's been kind of crazy," she says. "Most times, when people really understand where we're coming from, they get it."
One in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. Because few cases 5 to 10 percent are caused by hereditary factors, Keep A Breast focuses on raising awareness about other contributors, such as obesity and chemicals linked to the disease, McAtee says. The group promotes breast self-exams for young women, starting at the age of menstruation.
Hunter senior Korianne Hird said her lime green "boobies" bracelet reminds her of her mother, a breast cancer survivor. Hird's mother picked up the bracelets at Valley Fair Mall's Zumiez store and shared them with the whole family.
"I thought it was kind of funny," Hird says. "I don't know what I would do if I lost her to it. She is fully recovered."
Hird wrote a two-page note to Goddard, thanking her for the ACLU's support.
"Some of the teachers and the administration think once you enter the school your rights are left at the door," Hird writes. "Thank you for sticking up for us."