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November 27, 2004
On November 19, eighth-grader Stephen Truszkowski decided to wear a T-shirt to school that his stepbrother had made.
The shirt had two handwritten messages on it.
On the front it said, "The Real Terrorist Is in the White House."
On the back, "End the Tyranny."
Claude McAllister is the principal at Everett Meredith Middle School in Middletown, Delaware, and he didn't take kindly to Truszkowski's shirt. The 13-year-old had worn it to school two times before, according to the News Journal, which broke the story. Both times he had complied with the school's demand that he take the shirt off or put something over it. But this time he wanted to challenge the school's policy.
I spoke with Truszkowski on November 23.
"I wore the shirt to school, and they told me to cover it up, and I just refused," he says. "The school counselor came to my homeroom and he took me to the principal's office, and I spent all first period arguing with the principal about whether the shirt was appropriate or not."
Truszkowski says the principal admitted to having a personal stake in the issue. "He said he was angry because he had a son and a nephew over there," Truszkowski says. "I said I respected them 100 percent, but I didn't respect the reason why they were over there."
According to Truszkowski, Principal McAllister said he was being disruptive and told him that "some of our rights stop right there when we walk through the school door."
McAllister also called Truszkowski a terrorist and taunted him by saying that he should wear a shirt that says, "I'm a terrorist," Truszkowski recalls.
"Why would I do that?" he says he asked the principal.
"Because you're pretty much just splitting the school in half," McAllister said, according to the student.
Truszkowski says he tried to explain that "different people have different opinions."
But he says McAllister would have none of it.
The principal threatened to suspend him for "defiance" if he didn't cover up the shirt. McAllister coaxed him into doing so by saying that there was no reason for him to get hurt by this and that his parents could come in later and talk to the school about the issue.
"I didn't want to get suspended," Truszkowski says. But the school has yet to set up an appointment with his parents to talk about it, he says.
McAllister did not return my phone call. Nor did the superintendent of the Appoquinimink School District. It has a policy that says students can't wear clothes that are distracting or that hinder the educational process, the News Journal noted. Lillian Miles, a district spokeswoman, told the paper that Truszkowski's shirt "has now become a distraction."
Truszkowski's stepbrother, Dan Easterwood, who made the shirt, is livid about the school's reaction.
"It's completely unAmerican to tell him that he can't wear a T-shirt that expresses his opinion when it's written in the First Amendment that he can," the 19-year-old Easterwood says. "It's a complete mockery of what this country stands for. It's ridiculous."
Easterwood, by the way, says he made the shirt because "I don't agree with Bush at all. To me, he's a pompous idiot who's running this country into the ground."
Easterwood says he's in contact with the Delaware Civil Liberties Union.
Truszkowski himself is eager to challenge the school's policies-in court, if he has to.
"I'm not fighting it just for me or anything," he says. " I want students in fourth or fifth grade and students in the future to be able to express themselves on issues without being suspended."
He says he may wear the shirt to school again.