Ned Thomas finally got to paint his assigned parking space at Pine Junior-Senior High School in Franklinton, Louisiana, this year — a privilege granted to seniors for a $25 fee, NOLA.com reported.
Thomas' visual theme? A commissioned portrait of President Donald Trump wearing a stars-and-stripes headband and sunglasses.
But while the principal gave the painting his stamp of approval, Washington Parish School System officials deemed the image too political — and promptly blotted it out with gray paint, NOLA said.
However, that isn't the end of the story.
A federal judge on Friday ordered school district Superintendent Frances Varnado and the school board to let the Trump portrait be repainted in the parking space, saying that blotting it out was a violation of Thomas' free-speech rights, the outlet noted.
A federal judge ordered the Washington Parish School District to let a senior at a high school in Franklinton repai… https://t.co/juT0VFup2f— NOLA.com (@NOLA.com)1602349260.0
What are the details?
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon — an appointee of former President Bill Clinton — ruled the Trump portrait is "pure political speech" and cannot be censored by the district, NOLA reported.
"The painting of President Trump cannot reasonably be described as obscene or plainly offensive on its face, nor can it be construed as school-sponsored speech," Fallon wrote, according to the outlet.
The judge also ruled that the district — in order to remove the image — would have to demonstrate that the Trump portrait is "materially disruptive," NOLA noted.
But Fallon said Trump's face doesn't qualify.
"This is not a case involving a symbol such as a Confederate flag, which has an established meaning as a 'symbol of racism and intolerance, regardless of whatever other meanings may be associated with it,'" Fallon said, according to the outlet, adding that "ultimately, it is clear that school officials in this case acted based upon 'an urgent wish to avoid controversy which might result from the expression.'"
What was the school district's position?
Varnado cited the campaign season's divisive politics as the reason for painting over the Trump portrait, NOLA said, adding that the superintendent was "concerned that the painting would cause further division and disruption among students — similar to that experienced within the school, parish, community and on social media."
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A risk of vandalism, property damage and fights came up. "Defendants also referenced a number of conflicts on social media over the summer, in which students who were typically friends were fighting against one another about race and politics," Fallon wrote. And they cited the murder of "a Black student perpetrated by a White individual during the previous school year that caused significant controversy in the community."
Varnado said her decision was meant to avoid controversy, not stir it up. But a barrage of livid e-mails followed, along with a federal lawsuit last month from Thomas's parents seeking an injunction. Their attorney, Yigal Bander of Baton Rouge, asserted the policy-required school approval came in late July, and that the senior paid a friend $200 to lay Trump's face down in paint.
The portrait was ready for public viewing on Aug. 6. Eight days later, the principal told him the School Board had ordered it painted over.
But Fallon ruled that "the burden on plaintiffs' First Amendment right to free speech and expression outweighs the school's burden of dealing with controversy related to the painting," NOLA reported.
Thomas told the outlet the college student friend he hired to paint the Trump portrait will be back to repaint it.
It isn't clear from the NOLA report whether the district is paying for the repainting job.
(H/T: The College Fix)