Students 1, school 0 in protest over popular coach's firing

When the school board fired the basketball coach at Sherwood High School last month, it had no idea it was in for a full-court press.

First, students at the small rural school plopped down in the hallway for a mass sit-in, at least as mass as it can get in a school with 250 students.

Then they made T-shirts to further protest the canning of coach Shawn Gibbs, whose team went 17-10 this past season.

Those shirts were banned, but before it was over the students gave the administration and board a lesson in First Amendment rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union agreed to handle the case on behalf of students and parents.

At 8:25 a.m. Tuesday, just minutes before a suit was to be filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, the school district’s attorney, Duane Martin, sent an e-mail:

"The administration believes that the turmoil has dissipated to the point that the T-shirts can be worn without a substantial disruption," Martin wrote.

After the school lifted the ban, the ACLU did not file the lawsuit.

A week earlier, Martin had said the district had to put safety first and would not rescind the ban.

It was a clear free-speech case, said Doug Bonney, chief counsel and legal director for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri.

"These shirts were not a threat, not disruptive and not disrespectful," Bonney said. "Moms made most of them."

Yet neither the T-shirts, which declared "Keep Coach Gibbs," "Gibbs and Sherwood Forever," and "Bring back Coach Gibbs," nor the lawsuit got Gibbs reinstated.

A popular coach for four years, Gibbs retains his job as a physical education teacher.

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