A Hillsboro student who was disciplined for wearing a pro-Trump T-shirt has won a $25,000 settlement.
Addison Barnes wore a T-shirt to Liberty High School that supported President Trump’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border. He was removed from class and told he could either change, cover up the shirt or go home.
Barnes went home — a decision the school initially considered a “suspension.” Now, Barnes has won a legal victory, though the money he was awarded will go to cover the legal costs he accumulated in the case. In a statement, Barnes expressed vindication in the deal.
“I brought this case to stand up for myself and other students who might be afraid to express their right-of-center views,” Barnes said. “Everyone knows that if a student wears an anti-Trump shirt to school, the teachers won’t think twice about it. But when I wore a pro-Trump shirt, I got suspended. That’s not right.”
A statement from Barnes and his attorneys said Liberty High teachers are allowed to hang signs in favor of “sanctuary” policies.
Barnes’ attorneys argued that the case was more about free speech protections than supporting a specific political viewpoint. One of the lead attorneys on the case was Mike McLane, the Republican leader of the Oregon House of Representatives.
“Political speech, whether popular or not, is protected by the Constitution,” McLane said in a joint statement with Barnes and other lawyers. “High school students have the right to express political views subject to restrictions that must be equally applied to all students.”
In the settlement, Liberty High School Principal Greg Timmons was required to apologize to Barnes. The district hasn’t provided the apology Timmons wrote, but in a statement the district summarized it.
“The brief letter apologizes for the initial suspension charged to Mr. Barnes for leaving campus and any upset that may have caused, and wishes him well in the future,” the district said.
But Hillsboro school officials also defended their decision to confront Barnes over his T-shirt. The district pointed out that roughly one-third of students at Liberty High are Latino, and there had been immigration-related disruptions previously, such as a student sit-in, “deportations of students’ family members and racially-motivated incidents.”
“Liberty High School administration could reasonably forecast that Mr. Barnes’ shirt might cause other students to feel unsafe and could potentially lead to walkouts, altercations or other disruptive actions,” the district said.
The district argued that “requesting” Barnes cover his shirt was “out of an abundance of caution.”
The district said the case fell in a legal “grey area,” with some precedents suggesting Hillsboro’s discipline might have been upheld at a higher court. Officials said the decision to settle was driven by “the cost and disruption of litigation.”