Court Cases Involving School Uniforms

By Alyssa Brode
Schools may require uniforms due to safety issues or for academic reasons.

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There are many arguments both for and against adopting uniforms in schools. According to the U.S. Department of Education, as of the 2007 to 2008 school year, approximately 18 percent of United States public schools required their students to wear uniforms, as compared to 12 percent in 1999 and only 3 percent in 1996. Regardless of the problems such policies seek to solve, dress codes have resulted in many court cases over the years.

Canady v. Bossier Parish School Board

After a successful trial run the previous year, the Bossier Parish School Board mandated uniforms for all students in the district beginning in the 1999-2000 academic year. Some parents fought the new rule, citing personal expression and religious rights and claiming that uniforms do not improve learning environments. A Louisiana district court ruled that no free speech rights were violated, but the decision was appealed. At the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the judge acknowledged the constitutional freedom of expression of clothing. Ultimately, though, the school board was determined to have the right to control behavior by way of a dress code. To determine if constitutional rights were violated, the court used a four-step system that has been applied to cases since. A school board must have the authority to set the policy. The policy must support a fundamental interest of the board as a whole. The members must not have set the guidelines for the purpose of censorship. The limits on student expression as a byproduct cannot be greater than they must be to achieve the interest of the board. If these four policies are present, no constitutional violation has occurred due to the matter.

Hicks v. Halifax County Board of Education

This 1999 lawsuit was filed by Catherine Hicks. Her great-grandson, Aaron Ganues, was a third-grade student at McIver Elementary School in North Carolina's Halifax County when he was suspended for violating the school's uniform regulations. Hicks claimed that abiding by the dress code would void her grandson's right to freedom of religion, attesting that conforming to the dress code would mirror conforming to the will of the Antichrist. Her claim also included a violation of Aaron's right to free speech. Hicks asked that the school system be forbidden to apply the dress code to her grandson due to these claims. The court determined that Aaron was being caused no irreparable harm and ruled against Hicks, deciding that the uniform policy was the school's to enact and that the constitutional right to free speech was not at stake in the matter.

Littlefield v. Forney Independent School District

This 2001 case began when a Forney, Texas, school board enforced a school uniform policy consisting of a polo shirt, oxford shirt or blouse in any of four approved colors and blue or khaki pants or shirts, a skirt or a jumper. Certain types of shoes were prohibited and baggy clothes were also banned. The Littlefields, parents to district students, requested that their children be exempt from the uniform policy and were denied. They filed suit against the school district, claiming that the uniform mandate violated their parental right to control their children's upbringing and education. They also claimed that opting out of the policy on the basis of religion allowed school officials to essentially rank the validity of religions, citing this as a violation of religious freedom. The District Court dismissed the suit prior to trial, which the plaintiffs appealed. The Fifth Circuit Court ruled that the students' rights to speech, while valid, were not absolute and that the students' rights were not violated. Additionally, they ruled that school rules derived for the sake of safety and better education would override the parents' right to control their children's upbringing as applied to the situation. The court also determined that the policy had no religious goal, and no religious freedom violation was determined to have occurred.

Jacobs v. Clark County School District

In 2003, Liberty High School in Henderson, Nevada, set a uniform policy of khaki pants and red, white or blue polo shirts for its students. Kimberly Jacobs, a junior at Liberty, was suspended five times for uniform violations when she continued to wear a religious shirt to school. She and her parents sued the Clark County School District, claiming damage to her reputation and disciplinary record and stating that she was denied her First Amendment rights of religious and personal expression. Their further argument was a deprivation for all students of due process because of the district's uniform policy. They requested injunctive relief, the expunging of suspensions from Jacobs' record and awarding of damages. The injunction was granted, preventing Liberty from any further discipline for breaking the uniform policy. Clark County School District appealed. The Court held that the District was allowed to restrict expression and determined that the uniform policy was neutral and constitutional. Jacobs' claims were dismissed.

About the Author

Alyssa Brode began writing in 2001. She served as a staff writer for her high school newspaper, "The Arrowhead," and has been freelancing ever since. She has a Bachelor of Music degree from Westminster Choir College of Rider University with a double major in voice performance and computer information systems and is pursuing a Master of Music in opera performance.

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