ATLANTA The dress-code policy for public schools in Gwinnett County violates students' rights to free speech and is unconstitutionally vague, a federal lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union claims.
In the suit, which was filed on April 28, the ACLU claims the school system ignored the rights of a Brookwood High School junior who was suspended for repeatedly wearing "gang-related clothing."
It is the second time this school year the ACLU has filed suit against Brookwood High claiming free-speech violations.
According to the latest lawsuit, school officials never defined what type of clothing is considered gang-related. Instead, the policy is vague and targets clothing popular among black students.
"This kid was repeatedly harassed and punished because he wore what school officials consider gang-related clothing," said Beth Littrell, an attorney for the ACLU of Georgia. "He felt it was a type of racial profiling, and had he been wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt like the white students, he would have not been taken to the office."
The unidentified honor student was enrolled in advanced-placement classes and recognized for his academic achievement, according to the suit. He denies being in a gang.
His mother, Marlyn Tillman, is co-vice president of the school's Parent Teacher Student Association and called the ACLU after a series of incidents she felt unfairly targeted her son, the lawsuit said.
In one incident, which took place in February 2001, the student got in trouble for wearing a pocket watch that was considered gang-related, according to the lawsuit. The watch was a gift from his mother.
"We don't think Gwinnett County students should be involved with a mind-reading exercise when they decide what to wear," Littrell said. "Hopefully we can resolve this and give students some guidance so they can concentrate on school."
Last August, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Brookwood seniors, Lloyd Goldsmith Jr. and Edward Alexander Morgan, who were suspended after posting derogatory statements about a teacher on an off-campus Web site. That case has not been decided.