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California school reverses, asks students to remove anti-gay stickers

INDIO, Calif. -- A California school district has reversed course and will now ask students wearing anti-gay stickers on their identification badges to remove them pending further investigation.

The Desert Sun newspaper reports that the Desert Sands Unified School District sent a letter Monday to staff saying it will ask a dozen students wearing the symbols to remove them while at school.

Administrators had previously said they couldn't ask students at Shadow Hills High School to stop donning the image of a small rainbow inside a circle with a line through it, citing free speech rights.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the change at the school near Palm Springs, California.

The students began using the stickers last month and classmates and teachers complained, saying gay and lesbian students felt targeted.

CBS Los Angeles reported that the stickers show a rainbow -- the symbol of the gay community -- with a line crossing through it. Officials said the stickers have increasingly shown up over the past two weeks on some students' school ID badges at Shadow Hills High School, as well as on social media websites.

Administrators had warned that students cannot interrupt class to express their beliefs.

"We all have a right to freedom of speech, but students also have a right to be educated without fear. This has always been our policy, and we will continue to enforce it," according to their Wednesday statement.

The stickers caused an outcry from students and faculty, with many calling them hate speech.

CBS Los Angeles reported that Shadow Hills senior and vice president of the Gay Straight Alliance Michelle Bachman said on Twitter that the stickers were "definitely hate speech, but legally, we can't do anything until these students start to physically harass us, which I believe is an injustice."

Schools have settled legal disputes over messages on clothing they banned to maintain order. In 2013, a Connecticut school district agreed to let a high school student wear a T-shirt with a slash mark through a gay pride rainbow after facing the threat of legal action from the ACLU.

But federal courts have allowed some limits on student speech.

Administrators checked ID cards on Feb. 16 and found three students wearing the anti-gay symbol and three wearing pride symbols. But the number of anti-gay stickers on campus have grown since then, gay students said.

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