Pubdate: Wed, 04 Jul 2007
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: B - 1
Copyright: 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Bong Hits 4 Jesus)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


Tigger or Other Such Decoration OK As Student Expression

As long as they're not carrying messages about "bong hits 4 Jesus,"
students have the right to express themselves in the clothing they
wear to school, whether it includes a cancer awareness pin or
embroidery of Tigger on their socks, a Napa County judge has ruled in
halting enforcement of a school's dress code.

For the past nine years, Redwood Middle School in Napa has required
students' clothing and backpacks to be entirely solid colors and has
banned pictures, words, symbols or patterns -- except the school logo
- -- as well as jeans or "denim-looking" clothes.

School officials say the dress code is intended to curb gangs and
promote safety by making it easy to identify outsiders on campus. It
was challenged in March by the American Civil Liberties Union on
behalf of six students who had been disciplined for various violations.

One of the students had worn a shirt with the manufacturer's logo.
Another had worn a breast cancer awareness pin, one had sported the
insignia of the anti-drug group DARE, and one girl had come to school
wearing a pair of socks bearing the image of the Winnie the Pooh
character Tigger.

On Monday, Superior Court Judge Raymond Guadagni ruled that the
students were likely to show that the policy violated freedom of
speech under the U.S. Constitution as well as California law, which
contains stronger protections for student expression.

He issued an injunction barring enforcement of the policy when classes
resume in the fall, but gave school officials the option of requiring
that all students wear uniforms. Under state law, that would entitle
parents to six months' notice and the right to exempt their children.

"Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse
gate," Guadagni said, quoting a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that
upheld free expression at school as long as it did not disrupt education.

He said the court reaffirmed that principle last week when it upheld
an Alaska high school's suspension of a student who carried a "bong
hits 4 Jesus" banner. The court said school officials can punish
students for statements that can be reasonably interpreted as
promoting illegal drug use, but not for taking stands on public issues.

Guadagni said a ban on gang colors or symbols would be constitutional,
but that the Redwood Middle School policy was much broader.

He acknowledged that a federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld a
similar dress code in a 2005 ruling that found no constitutional right
for students to make a fashion statement, or simply to wear clothes
that looked nice. But even if that ruling were binding in California,
it would not justify a policy that outlawed all words or messages on
clothes, Guadagni said.

Among those applauding the ruling was Donnell Scott, whose 14-year-old
daughter, Toni Kay Scott, was sent to a detention program called
Students With Attitude Problems when she wore Tigger socks to school.

"We're ecstatic that the court recognizes our kids' rights to express
themselves at school," Donnell Scott said Tuesday in a statement
through her lawyers.

"We're happy to see that after (last week's Supreme Court ruling),
courts still understand that the First Amendment provides robust
protection to students in public schools," said ACLU lawyer Julia
Harumi Mass.

The suit was filed against the school and the Napa Valley Unified
School District, which approved the policy. The district's general
counsel, Sally Dutcher, said officials would discuss what to do next
during Thursday's school board meeting.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake