July 5, 2007
(Updated 7/12/2007)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org
 

ACLU Hails Ruling as First Amendment Victory for Students

NAPA, CA - A California state judge has blocked a middle school from enforcing an overly strict dress code that got a student punished for wearing Winnie-the-Pooh socks. The court ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California against the Napa Valley Unified School District and Redwood Middle School.

"Just in time for the Fourth of July, this decision reaffirms important free speech rights of California's public school students," said ACLU of Northern California staff attorney Julia Harumi Mass.

The case, filed March 19, challenges Redwood Middle School's "Appropriate Attire Policy" which only allows solid-color clothes in blue, white, green, yellow, khaki, gray or brown, and no pictures, logos, words or patterns of any kind, including stripes and flowers. The school district had enforced the policy to prohibit a variety of expressive clothing including plaintiff Toni Kay Scott's socks depicting Tigger from the Winnie-the-Pooh series, an American Cancer Society ribbon pin to support breast cancer awareness, and t-shirts emblazoned with "Jesus Freak" and "D.A.R.E. to keep kids off drugs."

"We're ecstatic that the court recognizes our kids' rights to express themselves at school," said Donnell Scott, mother of 14-year-old Toni Kay, who was sent to an in-school suspension program called Students With Attitude Problems because of her Tigger socks. "I'm only sorry the school district didn't respond to our concerns when we raised them two years ago."

Napa Superior Court Judge Raymond Guadagni held a hearing in the case on May 23. Yesterday, the court granted the families' motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the school from enforcing the dress code.

"The court's decision supports our view that Redwood Middle School's uniform dress code policy violates not only the students' First Amendment rights, but also California state law rights of students and their parents," said ACLU cooperating attorney Thomas V. Loran III of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

In yesterday's decision, Judge Guadagni cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Morse v. Frederick as upholding the well-settled principle that student expression is protected as long as it does not "materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school."

"We believe the court's decision was thoughtful and well-reasoned," said Sharon L. O'Grady, an ACLU cooperating attorney at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. "We are pleased that the court agreed with each of the arguments we made in support of our request for an injunction."

The court's order prohibits the school district from enforcing the Appropriate Attire Policy as written without providing parents an opportunity to opt out of participation. With their parents' permission, students returning to school this fall will be able to wear clothing that contains expressive messages, as well as a variety of colors and patterns.

The judge's decision is online at:
www.aclu.org/freespeech/youth/30363lgl20070702.html

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