By most measures, Colton Southern is a model seventh-grader.
Joe Southern told KTRK that his son has worn the shirt on several other occasions without a problem, but this time was different. School officials, Southern told KTRK, informed the boy that the shirt was banned because it included an image of a weapon. Instead of sending him home, officials forced the boy to cover up the T-shirt by zipping up his jacket.
Southern was furious.
“It’s political correctness run amok,” he told KTRK. “You’re talking about a Star Wars t-shirt, a week before the biggest movie of the year comes out. It has nothing to do with guns or making a stand. It’s just a Star Wars shirt.”
The incident comes at a time when schools across the country are on high alert because of a spate of mass shootings. A little more than a week earlier, two Islamic State-inspired terrorists killed 14 people and injured 22 during a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. Days earlier, Robert Lewis Dear allegedly stormed inside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and began shooting, killing three people, including a police officer.
Since 2013, according to the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, there have been at least 161 school shootings in America — an average of nearly one a week. As The Washington Post reported last week, there has been more than one mass shooting a day in the United States this year.
A spokesperson for the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District told KTRK that a list of dress-code violations in the LCISD secondary school handbook includes “symbols oriented toward violence.”
School officials told the station that the middle-schooler got off easy and could have faced a harsher punishment, such as in-school suspension.
Southern told KTRK that forcing his son to cover up his shirt is a violation of the boy’s First Amendment rights. Noting that the weapon and the character holding it are fictional, he dismissed the idea that there was any suggestion of violence on the part of his son.
“There’s not a violent bone in his body,” Southern told KTRK. “He’s just an excited kid for the movie.”
MORE READING: How mass shootings are changing America’s schools