CT Judge OK's Red, White -- But Not Blue -- Jeans

June 4, 1999 12:00 am

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WATERBURY, CT–At a time when school shootings have provoked fears across the country, a judge ruled Friday that children attending public schools do not have a constitutional right to wear whatever they want, Associated Press reports.

Superior Court Judge John Caruso denied a temporary injunction that would have stopped the Waterbury school district from enforcing a new uniform and dress code policy that affects more than 15,000 school children in 27 public schools.

The lawsuit was brought against the board by four students and their parents, who claim the dress code violates the students’ civil rights and their right to a free public education under state law. The parents say they should be able to raise their children as they see fit, that any dress code should be voluntary, and that children should dress as they please, so long as their clothing is neither offensive nor overly revealing.

“We’re disappointed with the judge’s ruling, but it’s important to remember that this is just a preliminary ruling at the beginning of the case,” said Ann M. Parrent, attorney for the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, which represents the families.

Parrent said that although there were no plans to appeal the judge’s ruling on the temporary injunction, the case will go to trial.

“We’re confident that we’ll be able to show at that stage that the school district’s educational and safety concerns are not serious enough to outweigh the rights of students and their parents to choose appropriate clothing,” Parrent said.

The issue came to the fore in March, when a 12-year-old was arrested at her middle school. Teshana Byars, an eighth-grader, was charged with criminal trespass because she showed up on a day when she was supposed to be serving suspension for wearing blue jeans.

Her father, Dennis, said Friday that he believes the judge’s thinking was clouded by “irrational” fears over a series of school shootings around the country, most recently one at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., that left 15 dead.

“The decision was more political than actually based on facts. His decision was based on what happened at Columbine. He did not address the students here. We don’t have those problems here,” Byars said.

Byars said he was considering whether to remove his daughter from school and educate her at home.

Waterbury’s uniform policy, the most extensive in Connecticut, specifies what types and colors of tops and bottoms elementary and middle school students can wear. Students whose parents opt out of the policy at the start of the school year are still required to adhere to a dress code prohibiting certain clothing, such as sweat pants, spandex, tube tops and blue jeans.

High school students face some clothing restrictions, including a no-jeans policy, but are not required to wear specific colors. Exceptions may be granted for financial hardship or religious reasons. The policy was instituted district-wide for the first time during the 1998-99 school year.

In the ruling, the judge made particular note of baggy blue jeans, saying they often have large pockets in which students could hide weapons or other contraband.

But Byars pointed out that the policy does not prohibit baggy jeans that are any other color besides blue.

“If you want to ban bagginess, then you should ban all types of baggy pants,” he said.

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