Student won't leave 'redneck' fight alone


The Express-Times, January 17, 2002

WASHINGTON TWP. – The senior who was suspended for. wearing a “redneck” T-shirt will appeal his suspension to the school board.

Tom Sypniewski said Friday that Vice Principal Ronald Griffith gave him a chance to remove the shirt or be punished.

“I thought about it,” Sypniewski said. “I sat there and said, ‘Man, if I take this shirt off I’m going to feel like garbage.'”

He told Griffith to start writing up the papers but he’s going to appeal.

His mother, Nancy Sypniewski, said she is proud of her son.

“I think it’s good he took a stand,” Sypniewski said.

His father, Tom Sr., is also happy to see the issue go to the board.

“I hope this ends with the board. I hope they see through it,” his father said of the ban on redneck.

Friday morning, a day after his friend was suspended for wearing a T-shirt that had a thumb-sized emblem of the Confederate flag on it, Tom Jr. said he had a feeling about the Jeff Foxworthy shirt he had worn to school over two dozen times before.

“The thought crossed my mind, this is going to piss people off,” he said of the shirt.

The shirt in question is part of comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s sports clothing line sold at Wal-Mart. The shirt lists 10 reasons why you might be a redneck sports fan and is based on Foxworthy’s comedy routine.

Superintendent Peter Merluzzi said the administration found the shirt to be offensive.

The administration decided to handle the incident under its dress code policy rather then the new racial discrimination and intimidation policy.

The other student was suspended for three days under that policy which forbids the display or possession of any items depicting or implying racial hatred or prejudice.

The policy specifically mentions the Confederate flag as such an item.

Merluzzi said a hearing for the appeal will be set after the school receives a written request for the hearing. In the past such appeals were heard by the members of the school board’s policy committee, he said. If the board denies the appeal, Sypniewski would be suspended from school for three days. Until the board rules, he is allowed to attend class.

On Friday, Sypniewski said he could not find anyone who would have been offended by the shirt. Merluzzi said two students came to school wearing T-shirts containing the word redneck but removed them after the administration asked them to.

Sypniewski said he feels the board will side with him and he will win the appeal.

“How can they find a shirt that was bought at Wal-Mart, where they don’t sell anything offensive, offensive?” he said.