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Calif. judge: Dress code that bars Tigger socks goes too far

By The Associated Press
07.05.07

NAPA, Calif. — A judge has barred a middle school from enforcing a dress code that got a seventh-grader in trouble for wearing Winnie the Pooh-themed socks.

Napa County Superior Court Judge Raymond Guadagni ruled July 2 in favor of 15 students and parents who alleged in a lawsuit that the Napa Valley Unified School District's "appropriate attire policy" violated their free-speech rights.

Students have a right to express themselves through their clothing, as long as they're not promoting drug use or gang membership, Guadagni ruled in granting an injunction against the policy.

The school's policy requiring students' clothing and backpacks to be in solid colors with no pictures, words, symbols or patterns violates California law and freedom of speech under the U.S. Constitution, the judge ruled in Scott v. Napa Valley Unified School District.

The policy, instituted in the 1990s to squelch gang activity on campus, requires students to wear clothes with solid colors in blue, white, green, yellow, khaki, gray, brown and black. Permitted fabrics are cotton twill, corduroy and chino, but no denim is allowed.

School officials defended the dress code, saying it's meant to make school grounds safer by making it easy to spot outsiders and by curbing gang-related dress.

The policy was challenged in a March lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of six students who had been cited for violations including wearing a breast cancer awareness pin and socks showing the Winnie the Pooh character. The suit was filed against the school and the Napa Valley Unified School District, which approved the policy.

Toni Kay violated the policy last year by donning socks with the Tigger cartoon character on them, along with a denim skirt and a brown shirt with pink border. She was sent to an in-school suspension program called Students With Attitude Problems.

The girl's younger sister was cited for wearing a shirt emblazoned with "Jesus Freak."

"We're ecstatic that the court recognizes our kids rights to express themselves at school," said Donnell Scott, the students' mother. "I'm only sorry the school district didn't respond to our concerns when we raised them two years ago."

Guadagni issued an injunction barring enforcement of the dress code when classes start again in the fall. The school can ban gang colors or symbols, and can punish students for statement promoting illegal drug use, but not for expressing themselves or taking stands on other public issues, he said.

He also said the school has the option of requiring all students to wear uniforms, though state law requires parents to get at least six months' notice and the right to exempt their children.

The school district's chief lawyer, Sally Jensen Dutcher, said an appeal was being considered and she would discuss the case with the school board today.


Update
Calif. school district loosens dress code that banned Tigger
Napa officials issue interim policy after judge suspends enforcement of original restrictions while ACLU lawsuit proceeds. 08.13.07

Previous
Girl in trouble for wearing Winnie the Pooh socks
ACLU files suit on behalf California seventh-grader, who was punished for violating dress code by wearing cartoon-themed socks, denim skirt to school. 03.21.07

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