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While uncertainty or difficulty regarding state law is generally not sufficient to justify traditional abstention, it may be enough to counsel certification where that procedure is available.
Two South Hadley High School students, Jonathan and Jeffrey Pyle, sued the principal, the superintendent and the School Committee of the South Hadley School (the "School") for violation of their First Amendment and state statutory rights. The Pyles were each excluded from the School at one time or another for wearing tee-shirts emblazoned with messages its officials deemed in violation of its dress code. The district court granted the Pyles' request for injunction against the code's harassment provision, but upheld the provision prohibiting message clothing considered obscene, lewd, or vulgar. Only the Pyles appealed, and the sole issue is the validity of the court's ruling with respect to the anti-vulgarity provision.
Was a statutory question of sufficient and prospective importance to state policy in the administration of its school system presented in this case?
The court found that there was no Massachusetts decisional law interpreting § 82, and that on its face, the statute guaranteed that student freedom of expression should not be abridged except insofar as it caused any disruption or disorder within the school. The court held that the statutory question was of sufficient and prospective importance to state policy in the administration of its school system, and certified a question to the state supreme court pursuant to Sup. Judicial Ct. R. 1:03. The question required a determination of whether public school students had the freedom under § 82 to engage in non-school-sponsored expression that could reasonably be considered vulgar, but caused no disruption or disorder.