Durand third-grader's father sues school over right to wear hat depicting AR-15 rifle

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A third-grade Michigan student's First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when she was prevented from wearing a hat at school with the text "Come and Take It" along with an image of an AR-15 rifle, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

The suit, filed on her behalf by the child's father, Adam Stroub, names the superintendent of Durand Area Schools officials, along with the principal and an academic and behavioral support staffer at Robert Kerr Elementary School where she attends.

It alleges the hat portrays support for the right to keep and bear arms in a non-violent, non-threatening manner and contains "pure speech."

A third-grader was told she couldn't wear this hat in school. Her father is suing.

The hat is black and features a white star, an image of an AR-style rifle and the words "Come and take it," according to the suit. The child selected the hat herself to wear to "hat day" on Feb. 17 at the school.

Michael Papanek, an academic and behavioral support staff member at the school, telephoned Stroub and asked if he would bring a different hat to school for his daughter to wear. School Principal Amy Leffel also telephoned Stroub that day and left a voicemail message that his daughter could not wear the hat at school.

Leffel said in her email, "The hat in question had a picture of an AR type weapon on the front of it. Weapons of any kind are not appropriate for students to wear in a school setting," the suit said.

In the suit, Stroub seeks a declaration that wearing the hat is constitutionally protected speech for his daughter; a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting the school officials from restricting her speech and preventing her from wearing the hat; and nominal damages.

By not providing the family "with objective criteria for knowing what clothing is prohibited," school officials are denying their due process rights under the 14th Amendment, the suit alleges.

"The Supreme Court ruled 50 years ago that schoolchildren do not shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate," said John R. Monroe, a gun rights attorney from Georgia who is representing the child. "That is still the law, and schools that teach our children civics and government should recognize that."

Superintendent Craig McCrumb said on the advice of the district's attorney, he could not comment on the lawsuit.

The pupil, through her father, seeks a declaration that wearing the hat in question is constitutionally protected speech; a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting the school officials from restricting her speech and preventing her from wearing the hat; and nominal damages. 

 The nonprofit, pro-gun Firearms Policy Coalition supports the lawsuit.

"Public schools may not violate the rights of pro-Second Amendment students because they don’t like guns or people who support the fundamental, individual human right to armed self-defense," said Firearms Policy Coalition President Brandon Combs. "We look forward to reminding these anti-rights authoritarian school defendants that the Constitution applies in public schools."

jchambers@detroitnews.com

Correction: Michael Papanek is an academic and behavioral support staff member at Robert Kerr Elementary School in Durand. His title was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.