A student protest at Millard South High School continued for a second day Friday. At least 18 students have been suspended for three days for violating the school's dress code.
Channel Six News has learned the Douglas County Sheriff's Department sent in deputies to support school officials.
At the center of the dispute are memorial shirts some students want to wear to honor Julius Robinson, a fellow classmate who was shot to death last June by an alleged gang member. School officials believe the shirts are disruptive and under district rules the school has the right to ban the shirts.
Suspended students gathered Friday in a nearby parking lot. Some of Robinson's friends say he was involved in a gang. Robinson was a member of the Millard South football team and his mother and brother say he was not involved in a gang.
"He was a strong kid, a great football player,” says brother Darius Robinson. “Everybody loved him."
A lot of students cared enough about Julius to take a three-day suspension for wearing the shirt to honor his memory. “One of the principals pulled me into the office,” says senior Kelsey Penrod. “Dr. Kasper told me that it was gang-related, the rest in peace, the RIP was considered gang-related."
“I'm pretty upset, all I'm trying to do is like respect my friend,” says junior Patzy Van Beek. “It’s not fair. People can wear 'rest in peace grandma,' but when it come to Julius, now all of a sudden we can't have that at our school. I feel like no one cares."
Patzy's mom agrees with the administration. She wants her daughter to follow the rules and she supports the suspension, but she also hears her daughter. “As long as she was peaceful and not swearing and yelling I can handle what she did,” says Amy Van Beek.
A number of parents have called or e-mailed Channel Six to confirm their children have been suspended. In at least some cases, students were greeted as they entered the school for the day and asked to report to the principal's office.
"The focus is on what they're wearing instead of on what they're suppose to be studying, their English and math, that’s what we want them to be concentrating on and not what they're wearing and their clothes,” says Angelo Passarelli of Millard Public Schools.
"We have a policy that says if kids wear clothing that disrupts the educational environment they're not allowed to do that, they're not allowed to take the rights of other kids who want to learn their math and English."
Administrators have said if the suspended students return with the "rest in peace" T-shirts again they will be suspended for a longer period of time.
The American Civil Liberties Union is siding with students on this issue. In a letter Friday to the superintendent, ACLU Legal Director Amy Miller said:
"Going back to school shouldn't mean sacrificing free speech rights at the schoolhouse door. While schools have latitude to censor messages that may cause a substantial disruption, this is not one of those messages. RIP is a time-honored expression of grief for a lost loved one with no likelihood of disrupting school."
The ACLU is threatening legal action if the school does not allow students to return to class Tuesday and erase the suspensions from their records.
The 18-year-old Robinson was wounded outside the Oak Ridge Apartment complex at 128th and Deauville Drive off Q Street the night of June 15th and died at the Nebraska Medical Center.