ACLU of New Jersey Helps Protesting Student "Skirt" School's No-Shorts Policy

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
January 25, 2006 12:00 am

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NEWARK, NJ – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today announced that it has reached an agreement with the Hasbrouck Heights School District on behalf of Michael Coviello, a 17-year-old male student who was prohibited from wearing a skirt to school.

“This is the right outcome,” said Jeanne LoCicero, the ACLU of New Jersey staff attorney who handled the case. “Michael is courageous for challenging the school policy by defying societal norms and for standing up to protest a senseless, discriminatory school policy.”

Coviello, a senior at the Hasbrouck Heights High School, decided to wear skirts and kilts to school to protest the District’s prohibition on students wearing shorts between October 1 and April 15, which he thought was arbitrary and unfair. The school objected when he wore a costume dress and asked Coviello to change clothes, which he did. Michael discussed the issue with the superintendent who advised him to wear skirts and dresses purchased in a retail store. Coviello followed the superintendent’s suggestion, buying several skirts that complied with the superintendent’s guidelines. After a few days of wearing skirts and kilts without incident, Michael was sent home with a note from the principal stating that he would not be allowed to attend class if he wore any sort of dress, kilt or skirt.

“I’m happy to be able to wear skirts again to bring attention to the fact that the ban on shorts doesn’t make sense,” said Coviello, “It is discriminatory for the school dress code to allow skirts but not shorts.”

On January 3, 2006, the ACLU of New Jersey sent a letter to the superintendent explaining that the dress policy needed to be enforced equally: because the policy allows students to wear skirts, all students – not just girls – should be able to wear skirts that comply with the policy. The letter also explained that Coviello’s decision to wear skirts was expressive conduct that is protected by the First Amendment. During a meeting last week, the district agreed that Michael would be allowed to wear skirts in the future.

Laura Coviello, Michael’s mother, said she contacted the ACLU of New Jersey because she believed her son’s right to free expression was being violated, and that the school dress policy was unfair. “I’m relieved that the dress policy will be enforced equally and that Michael won’t be punished for expressing his disagreement with the school’s dress policy,” she said.

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