July 25 (UPI) -- An Oregon teenager who was suspended for wearing a T-shirt supportive of President Donald Trump to his high school has received an apology from the district.
Addison Barnes, 18, filed the lawsuit against the Hillsboro School District. One of the lead attorneys on his case, Mike McLane, the Republican leader of the Oregon House of Representatives, praised the decision.
"Political speech, whether popular or not, is protected by the Constitution," McLane said in a statement. "High school students have the right to express political views subject to restrictions that must be equally applied to all students."
Back in January, Barnes went to class at Liberty High School wearing a T-shirt that said, "Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Co." with the slogan, "The wall just got 10 feet taller," a reference to a speech Trump made about building more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Barnes was pulled out of the class and given an ultimatum: Either cover up the shirt with his jacket or get suspended. At first, he chose the jacket, but quickly changed his mind.
"I thought to myself, 'You know this isn't right, this is my First Amendment right to be able to wear this shirt.' So I took off the jacket and the assistant principal had seen that and sent for a security guard to escort me out of class," Barnes told KGW-TV after filing the suit in May.
"I had a teacher who had a pro-sanctuary city poster in her room which was up all year," Barnes added. "Yet, as I wear a pro-border wall shirt, I get silenced and suspended for wearing that."
Attorneys for Barnes and the Hillsboro School District settled the matter Tuesday. The district will pay $25,000 for Barnes' attorney fees and Liberty High School Principal Greg Timmons apologized in a written statement.
"As an educational institution, Hillsboro School District and each of our schools supports, encourages, and celebrates free speech and reasoned debate," the statement read. "We also have a responsibility to ensure that each of our students feels welcome and safe in our schools so they can effectively learn.
"This was an instance where we were challenged to do both simultaneously and the decision landed on the side of ensuring student safety. Moving forward, we will continue to use professional discretion to meet both objectives and will actively seek ways to turn sensitive situations into learning opportunities."
According to The Oregonian, district attorneys argued that school officials had grounds to suspend Barnes because the shirt created a "hostile learning environment," partly because about 30 percent of the school's population is of Latino descent.
However, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman said that wasn't an excuse to censor Barnes, noting the district offered little evidence to show the shirt could "substantially disrupt" the learning environment.