We represent Jonae Devlin, an eighth grade student at Hodges Bend Middle School in Houston, Texas.
Since the beginning of the current school year, Jonae would periodically wear a rosary to school. She did so in order to express her Christian beliefs and in honor of her Catholic grandmother.
On December 16, 2010, while in the school hallway changing classes, Jonae was told by school officials that she could not wear her rosary to school and was ordered to remove it. After declining this directive, Jonae was suspended for the rest of the school day and the entirety of the following day.
Jonae's mother was told that Jonae was suspended because the rosary is a gang symbol and school policies forbid the display of such symbols on school grounds.
We wrote a letter to the Superintendent of Fort Bend Independent School District, apprising him of the facts, setting forth the law, and listing our demands.
We made it clear that the First Amendment forbids public school officials from suppressing the free speech rights of students, where such speech does not interfere with the operations of the school. We also made it clear that vague policies prohibiting symbols or speech violate the U.S. Constitution.
I am pleased to report that we have received a letter from the school district's General Counsel meeting our demands. With this letter, Jonae has written assurances that she may wear her rosary to school without fear of punishment. Moreover, the school district has agreed to expunge from Jonae's records any reference to this incident or her suspensions.
It's always encouraging when a student or young person stands up for their First Amendment right to express their Christian beliefs, and it's a privilege to offer legal representation to those who do so.
This is the second time in a matter of months that we have had to fight for the right of a student to wear a rosary openly to school. You may remember our case out of New York State where a student was suspended for wearing a rosary. We filed a federal lawsuit in that case and ultimately got the discriminatory policy changed and our client's school record expunged. You can read more about that case here.
We hope it isn't necessary, but we stand ready to assist other students who face this kind of discriminatory action.