White Zombie T-Shirt Flap Racks $60K In Fees

The two-year-old dispute over a Rhode Island high school student's right to wear a $5 "White Zombie" T-shirt to school has already created upwards of $60,000 in legal fees, according to the Associated Press.

"This has gotten way out of hand," Parker's mother, Marianne Almeida told the AP. "It's just a $5 T-shirt. They've spent thousands of dollars fighting it."

Parker, who is now 18 and weeks away from graduating, was sent home in 1998 (his sophomore year) for wearing the shirt for the now-defunct band and was ordered not to wear it to school again.

The "Zombie" shirt, which had the number "666" on the back, "was disruptive and violated the dress code," according to officials at Parker's Westerly High School.

The AP reports that a state hearing pitting Westerly's School Committee against Rhode Island's American Civil Liberties Union has taken some odd turns.

At one point, the town requested that a Roman Catholic priest testify

why the shirt could be viewed as satanic, while the ACLU asked local radio jock, Rudy Cheeks, to say that there was nothing to fear from heavy metal music.

"If they're concerned about people rioting in the streets, that didn't start with rock and roll," Cheeks said.

Thomas Grady, the lawyer for the town, refused to comment, according to the AP.

The ACLU has also filed a challenge with the state Education Department, claiming the school's dress code was vague and violated free speech rights. The ACLU is not charging Parker's family, but the town has run up at least $60,000 in legal fees.

The hearing has dragged on partly because Grady and the ACLU have been haggling over what testimony is relevant to the case, according to the AP report.

Joseph Terranova, a member of the School Committee who was elected several months after Parker's T-shirt incident, did acknowledge that the legal fees are high.

"It is kind of sad we've had to spend

this kind of money, which could have been used for books and computers," Terranova said to the AP.

He also added that this is a matter of principle to the town. "If we lose this," he asked, "what is to stop kids from coming to school with shirts with ethnic slurs?"

Anyone interested in voicing an opinion on this case can do so by contacting the relevant party on its website. The Web site is located at www.aclu.org, while the Rhode Island Department Of Education is at www.ridoe.net.