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Arizona elementary school enforces mandatory uniform policy

By David Hudson
First Amendment Center

Officials at Nevitt Elementary School in Tempe, Ariz., are enforcing the school's recently adopted mandatory uniform policy, disciplining students who do not comply.

However, Earl and Kim Tucker, whose two children attend Nevitt, oppose the policy, saying it violates their kids' free-expression rights.

"I do believe that a mandatory uniform policy inhibits my kids' freedom of expression rights," Kim Tucker said. "The whole purpose of school is education, not to mandate conformity."

The policy, which was adopted last March, requires students to wear a white, collared shirt and blue bottoms — either pants, skirts or shorts.

The Tuckers' attorney, Gary Peter Klahr, says that he may file a lawsuit as early as next Tuesday if the situation continues.

"The actions by the school officials represent the real intolerance of diversity that is sweeping our nation," Klahr said. "This is not Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, but a democratic republic. We should not try to fit our children into a basic mold."

The policy began with a two-week introductory period beginning on Aug. 17, the first day of school, and ending Aug. 28. As of Aug. 31, uniforms were mandatory.

The policy states: "After August 28, 1998, students who fail to comply with the Dress Code Policy will be subject to disciplinary actions that may include the following:

  • Students may be excluded from class for the day. Parents will be contacted to pick up their child.
  • Students may be assigned to a special classroom for the day. Parents will be contacted.
  • Students may be assigned to in-school suspension for up to 10 days. Parents will be notified of the suspension."

The Tuckers' two children have gone to school in regular clothes all week. On Monday, pursuant to school policy, all students who did not adhere to the dress code were offered a uniform.

Katherine Bareiss, public relations specialist for Tempe School District #3, said: "On the 2nd day of noncompliance, the children were asked to the principal's office, their parents were notified and then they were placed in a special classroom."

Bareiss would not comment on a specific case, but said that there has been "an instance of repeated noncompliance."

"If students continue to fail to comply with the policy, their parents will be given the choice of selecting any other school in the district for their children," Bareiss said.

There are 17 other schools in the district; Nevitt is the only one that requires uniforms, Bareiss said.

But Kim Tucker does not see a real choice in this matter. "This is ludicrous; they are saying if my children don't conform, enroll in another school. What kind of choice is that?" she asks.

Bareiss says the policy represents the will of the local community. "We believe that this policy came about as a result of a local decision by the staff and parents at the school. In their discussions, the majority of parents felt that uniforms were a good strategy for increasing educational opportunities for their children. The parents felt that the uniforms would help the children focus on learning," she said.

However, Klahr remains adamantly opposed to such dress codes, fearing they regiment young minds.

"Uniforms grossly violate freedom of expression," he said. "Uniforms represent an element of the conformist, communitarian movement that is sacrificing individual rights to community rights."

Klahr cites the U.S. Supreme Court's 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community School Dist. as proof that student expression should not be restricted unless it creates a material interference with or substantial disruption of classroom activities.

Last year, an Arizona state appeals court rejected the First Amendment challenge to an elementary school dress code in Phoenix Elem. Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. Green. That court found the Tinker case "inapplicable" and found that the "dress code is not intended to restrict speech, but is a content-neutral regulation of student dress that the trial court found furthers reasonable policies and goals" of the school.

However, Klahr says the Green decision is "out of harmony with virtually every federal case on student rights" since the Tinker case.

"It's almost like there is a war against the young these days," Klahr says. "Uniforms are not a real solution to educational problems; they are at best a Band-Aid."

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