District proposes T-shirt case settlement

Offer includes $20,000, permission to wear shirt as student pleases.

WAYNESVILLE — The Wayne Local Schools is offering to pay $20,000 as part of a settlement with the local high school student who brought a federal lawsuit against the district after he was prevented from wearing a “Jesus is Not a Homophobe” T-shirt.

The district announced a proposed settlement, also allowing Maverick Couch, 16, of Waynesville, to wear the shirt “as he pleases” and declaring him “the prevailing party,” in a press release issued Friday.

Christopher Clark, of Lambda Legal, the firm that filed the lawsuit April 3 in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, declined to comment on the offer.

“We will be discussing it with our client and making a decision,” Clark said.

The lawsuit claims Couch’s First Amendment rights were violated when the school principal twice prevented him from displaying the message and threatened disciplinary action if it was worn again.

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The case triggered media attention and reactions around the world, some promoted by Lambda, a national nonprofit dedicated to promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.

On April 20, a year after Couch was first ordered to cover the slogan, he was allowed to wear the shirt to school in observance of a “Day of Silence,” a worldwide event held to raise awareness of bullying of LGBT students at school.

Members of the local Baptist church protested this decision, made while lawyers and U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett negotiated a settlement.

While emphasizing support for the First Amendment and diversity, Superintendent Patrick Dubbs said the offer was made in part out of concern that litigating the case would cost the district more than $100,000.

“We support what our principal did,” he said, adding school officials need to balance individual rights with ensuring education of all students.

The lawyers and Barrett are scheduled to discuss the settlement offer in a May 14 teleconference.

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