Schools, Penney's Having a Cow About Bart Simpson T-Shirt

Bart Simpson, the crown-headed cartoon prince of "The Simpsons," has been expelled from two elementary schools, and now he's been banned from J.C. Penney for his bad attitude. T-shirts bearing his bug-eyed visage and the message "Underachiever and proud of it, man" are considered counterproductive by elementary school principals Bill Krumnow of Lutz Elementary School in Fremont, Ohio, and Jamie Brown of Cambridge Elementary School in Orange, Calif. Penney's is supporting the cause and is excising the shirt from its boys' and men's departments.

"We're trying to model good behavior and high standards," Brown said in a phone interview. "We don't want to recognize underachievement."

Since the two principals have gone public with their Simpsons censure, J.C. Penney's men's division has decided to "cancel that particular silk-screened image on all of its back orders and future Simpson T-shirt orders," said spokeswoman Carol Edwards.

Krumnow decided to ban the "Underachiever" shirts shortly after the first one appeared on his campus.

"We wanted to nip the problem in the bud," he said. He hadn't expected the outpouring of interest from the media, concerned parents and supportive educators. Since he announced the ban last week, he has fielded as many as 40 calls a day requesting interviews. Of the parents who have called him, 99% favor the ban, he said.

In Brown's Cambridge Elementary School, there are two unwelcome Simpson T-shirts. Brown considers the second one offensive because of language: "Hi, I'm Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?"

Since the Simpson shirt ban, Brown has received a petition with 13 signatures claiming his dress policy stifles the creativity and artistic expression of children. Krumnow has received "only one or two phone calls that make the analogy to suppression of First Amendment rights," he said.

Meanwhile, T-shirt shops as well as Penney's can't keep the item in stock. And pirated versions of Simpson shirts sell at three for $10 on the boardwalk in Venice. (The J.C. Penney version sells for $11 to $14.)

The response from the show's makers? Don't have a cow, man, as Bart would say. (This sentiment is the top-selling Bart Simpson T-shirt in all Penney's stores.) Antonia Coffman, a spokeswoman for the show, said the Simpsons aren't meant to set any kind of example.

So J.C. Penney will.

"We are not in the business of censoring, but we don't want to alienate mothers and schools," said Nancy Overfield-Delmar of the J.C. Penney children's division, which is considering baning the T-shirt from the children's departments. Even with a ban, she estimates sales of Simpson merchandise to top the $10 million made from Batman sales.

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