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Michigan school bans student's anti-Bush T-shirt

By The Associated Press

02.19.03

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DEARBORN, Mich. — There's no misunderstanding 16-year-old Bretton Barber's opinion of his nation's chief executive.

"International Terrorist" were the words framing President Bush's picture on a black T-shirt that the Dearborn High School junior wore to class on Feb. 17.

School officials told him to take it off, turn it inside out or go home. He went home. The next day he returned, with a different shirt.

School officials said they were worried about inflaming passions at the school, where a majority of students are Arab-American.

Dearborn has the nation's highest concentration of people of Middle Eastern heritage and is the center of an Arab-American community of about 300,000 in southeastern Michigan.

Bretton said he wanted to express his anti-war position by wearing the shirt, which he ordered on the Internet.

"Bush has already killed over 1,000 people in Afghanistan — that's terrorism in itself," he told The Detroit News for a story today.

He said he wore the shirt for a presentation he made that morning in English class. The assignment was a "compare and contrast" essay, and he chose to compare Bush with Saddam Hussein.

Dearborn Public Schools spokesman Dave Mustonen said students have the right to freedom of expression, but educators are sensitive to tensions caused by the conflict with Iraq.

"It was felt that emotions are running very high," said Mustonen. "The shirt posed a potential disruption to the learning environment at the school. Our No. 1 obligation is to make sure we have a safe learning environment for all of the students."

About 55% of the district's 17,600 students are Arab-American.

Imad Hamad of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said officials took the right approach. Hamad said he hoped they would take it one step further and use the experience to educate students on how to exercise freedoms in positive ways.

"I see no winner here," Hamad said. "The school did the right thing to diffuse any potential conflict among the student population. I assume they would do the same thing if another message was displayed that was offensive to a different culture."

Lindsey Hoganson, another 16-year-old junior, said students can handle discussions about today's political issues without passions rising. She disagreed with the school's decision to ban the shirt.

"A lot of people are worried about the war. We talk about it at school a lot," she said. "Talking about it isn't going to disturb the learning environment, because the topic's already been brought up in school."

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