Aurora fifth-grader suspended over anti-Obama T-shirt

UPDATE: Please read School District says suspended student’s anti-Obama t-shirt caused ‘disruption’ for new information on the story.

The father of an Aurora fifth-grader said Monday he plans to sue after school officials suspended the youth last week when he wouldn’t remove a home-made T-shirt reading “Obama a terrorist’s best friend.”

“It’s the public school system,” Dann Dalton told Fox31 News, “let’s be honest, it’s full of liberal loons.”

Eleven-year-old Daxx Dalton wore the crudely handwritten shirt the day Aurora Frontier K-8 students were urged to wear red, white and blue to express their patriotism. School officials gave him a choice, he said, “switching the shirt, or wearing it inside out, or getting suspended.”

“They’re taking away my right of freedom of speech,” Daxx told Fox31 report Christin Ayers. “If I have the right to wear this shirt, I’m going to use it. And if the only way to use it is get suspended, then I’m going to get suspended.”

Aurora Public Schools officials declined to comment on Dalton’s suspension but told Ayers it’s district policy to “Respect a student’s right to free speech, such as the right tto wear specific clothing.” A letter from the school shown on camera by Fox31 cited “willful disobedience” as a reason for the suspension.

It’s not about politics, Dann Dalton said, but about his son’s First Amendment rights. “The facts are, his rights were violated,” he told Ayers. “Period.”

It isn’t the first time Dalton, a self-described “proud conservative,” has made news testing the limits of First Amendment expression.

Dalton was among a group of anti-abortion protesters who marched through an Arapahoe County neighborhood to protest a Planned Parenthood doctor in July 2000, according to a Colorado Springs Gazette story. The protest came in response to a law passed that week by the Arapahoe County Commission that banned “targeted picketing” outside the physician’s home. The picketers, led by Bob Enyart, had been gathering at least once a month in the doctor’s cul-de-sac.

“This is God’s work,” said Dann Dalton, a Denver truck driver who took part in the protest along with his two young children. “They think this ordinance will end the problem, but now the entire neighborhood can enjoy the annoyance.”

Aurora schools are no strangers to free speech controversies sparked by conservative students, either.

Two years ago in the neighboring Cherry Creek School District, a high school geography teacher made international headlines after a student recorded a lecture that included comparisons between the speaking styles of George Bush and Adolph Hitler.

The student, Sean Allen, passed the recording to a radio station and soon Fox News was airing it while blasting the Overland High School teacher for “indoctrinating” students. The recording included the teacher, Jay Bennish, asking, “Who is probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth?” He agreed when a student said, “We are.”

A media circus descended upon Aurora and talk radio shows went wild over a number of Bennish’s statements. When students walked out of class in support of their teacher, Fox commentator Alan Colmes claimed students had walked out to protest his views. Bennish flew to New York for an interview with the Today Show’s Matt Lauer, where he said his comments were taken out of context and included contrary views expressed after the recording ended.

Civil rights lawyer David Lane represented Bennish, who contested a suspension from the classroom for failing to provide varying viewpoints for students. The school board reinstated Bennish, who agreed to change his teaching style.

Daxx Dalton said on Monday he’s willing to leave his anti-Obama shirt at home for a while. “Except on Election Day,” he told Ayers, “when I’m going to wear it again.”

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Ernest Luning

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