'Pro-Palestine' Shirts Prompt Free Speech Questions At Framingham High

FRAMINGHAM, MA — A national organization is seeking answers from Framingham High School after a student was asked on two occasions to remove a shirt with “Pro-Palestine” messaging.

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), a collection of nonprofit groups “dedicated to protecting freedom of expression,” sent a letter to Framingham High School Principal Amy Gerade asking her and the district to do more in protecting student freedom of speech, and to foster an environment for complex conversations.

In response, the school has recruited the organization for help on “how to navigate the complexities of the current conflict in the Middle East at the school and classroom levels.”

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In the letter, NCAC officials detail that a student ” first wore a shirt containing support for Palestine, opposition to Zionism, and support for a congressional resolution to prohibit Israel from using U.S. taxpayer dollars for certain activities related to Palestine.”

At this point, NCAC officials said, the student received an email from school administration stating that the shirt “would spark a visceral reaction from other people at FHS which would lead to violence.” The student was also told they would face discipline if they wore it again.

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A second shirt was then worn by the student which NCAC officials said denounced Palestinian “oppression” and “genocide”. That shirt was also banned, the letter said.

Framingham High School officials said they didn’t comment on “specific student issues.”

The NCAC cites the Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District which states that “school officials may not forbid students from expressing political views unless the expression of those views substantially disrupt school activities.”

“We understand that some shirts may indeed create a risk for substantial disruption in some educational circumstances,” NCAC officials wrote. “However, the evidence of disruption must be clear. To assume disruption based on a student’s political views is improper.”

The organization believes that schools should be a place for the exchange of ideas amongst anyone, including students. School officials, according to an excerpt from an email to the student published in the letter, disagree.

“The forum for such complexities is … in some kind of other space wherein ideas can be exchanged freely and with negative reaction minimized.”

Citing a more recent Supreme Court decision, NCAC again believes the school should take a greater responsibility for protecting this type of free speech.

“Schools have a strong interest in ensuring that future generations understand the workings in practice of the well-known aphorism, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'”

On Tuesday, Framingham officials issued a statement to Patch saying that they are working to improve that arena for dialogue in their buildings, and have reached out to the NCAC for resources on how to do that.

“Framingham High School is a community that values the diversity of its student body and staff. We also value the freedom of speech afforded to our community and welcome opportunities for discourse. At times, determining the gray line between freedom of speech and inciteful speech can be difficult. The circumstances surrounding the determination are largely contextual,” district officials said.

They continued:

“While we do not comment publicly on specific student issues, we can share that this was a learning experience for all involved. We are working with our faith-based leaders as well as school and district staff on how to navigate the complexities of the current conflict in the Middle East at the school and classroom levels, knowing we have students and families who have been directly as well as indirectly impacted. Additionally, we are reaching out to the NCAC (National Coalition Against Censorship) for resources and support as we guide our students to be thoughtful, civically engaged citizens.”

The Palestinian death toll in the Israel-Hamas war surpassed 10,300, including more than 4,200 children, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, the Associated Press reported.
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In the occupied West Bank, more than 140 Palestinians have been killed in the violence and Israeli raids. More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, most of them in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that started the fighting, and 242 hostages were taken from Israel into Gaza by the militant group.

Roughly 1,100 people have left the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing since Wednesday under an apparent agreement among the United States, Egypt, Israel and Qatar, which mediates with Hamas.

This story contains reporting from the Associated Press.

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