Federal Court Reinstates High School Student Suspended for Blue Hair

June 4, 1999 12:00 am

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Friday, June 4, 1999

RICHMOND–Kent McNew, a Surry County High School sophomore suspended April 28th because of his dyed blue hair, has been allowed to return to school, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said today.

At a hearing yesterday in Federal District Court in Richmond, Judge Robert E. Payne ordered Surry County to allow his return and provide a means for him to make up work lost as a result of the suspension.

Judge Payne based his decision in part on the 1972 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Massie v. Henry, . In that case, a North Carolina high school was prohibited from regulating students’ hairstyles.

McNew and his mother, Phyllis Smith, contacted the ACLU for assistance following his suspension in April.

McNew had been attending school since dying his hair blue last December. According to papers filed with the court, although there have been no incidences of disruption caused by Kent’s hair, Surry County High School officials suspended him under a new policy banning “unusual hair colors.”

The policy was apparently adopted by the Surry County School Board in reaction to Governor Jim Gilmore’s call for a crackdown on student expression in the wake of the tragic shootings last month at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

“The ACLU recognizes the right of Surry County to enforce rules and regulations in the name of safety,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “But we believe it is possible to make such policies without trampling the constitutional rights of students.”

“In suspending Kent because of his hair, Surry County went too far. We are pleased the court recognized that,” Willis added.

McNew and Smith are represented by ACLU cooperating attorney Victor M. Glasberg of Glasberg & Associates in Alexandria and Richard Ferris, associate director of the ACLU of Virginia.

The Surry County School Board has indicated its intentions to appeal the ruling.

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