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8th Circuit: Students can wear armbands to protest dress code

By The Associated Press
09.03.08

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal appeals panel yesterday upheld a ruling that Watson Chapel school officials violated the constitutional rights of three students who were disciplined for wearing black armbands to school to protest a uniform policy.

The school district had asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the U.S. District Court ruling last year that found the rights of the students had been violated.

On Oct. 6, 2006, 31 Watson Chapel junior high and high school students wore the armbands to protest a policy requiring them to wear khaki pants with belt loops and a white polo-style shirt with two or three buttons. Students also were required to wear identification badges.

At least 24 of the students were punished, although some of them had notes from parents saying they had the parents' permission and that the protest was allowed under the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist .

Three of the students, with their parents, filed suit. Before trial, U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes ruled that the district had violated the students' rights and held a trial only on the issue of damages. A jury found that the students did not prove they deserved either compensatory or punitive damages. Afterward, Holmes granted a motion by the students to amend the jury verdict to award nominal damages, and each was awarded $1.

The school district also sought to overturn a permanent injunction that grew out of the case and the awarding of attorney fees for the students, Chris Lowry, Colton Dougan and Michael Joseph, and their parents.

"The district court was correct to find that ... a violation of (the students') First Amendment rights had been established," Judge Lavenski R. Smith wrote for the three-judge panel in Lowry v. Watson Chapel School District. “We hold that Tinker is so similar in all constitutionally relevant facts that its holding” is controlling.

The panel also refused to lift the nominal damages and to overturn the permanent injunction barring discipline of any students with armbands. The panel also left intact the order directing the school district to pay the students’ legal fees. In each case, the panel said the ruling from Holmes was correct.


Previous
Federal court dismisses part of suit targeting Ark. dress code
Judge rules Watson Chapel officials have immunity from challenge to district's flier policy, but says superintendent, principal can be sued for suspending students for dress-code protest. 08.23.07

Related

Federal judge: Uniforms may stay, but so may student's armband

Louisiana school district didn't prove that girl interfered with other students' education or rights by wearing black ribbon in protest of uniform policy, court finds. 12.28.99

Students can wear logos protesting school dress code, says federal judge

Court finds that Wilson County, Tenn., students' protest 'embodies exactly the kind of speech that is entitled to First Amendment protection.' 09.14.00

High school officials prominent on annual list of censors
By David L. Hudson Jr. Administrators receive 4 out of 14 Muzzle awards as Thomas Jefferson Center announces 16th class of recipients of dubious distinction. 04.10.07

High court turns away Ark. district's appeal of armbands ruling
Lower courts had found that Watson Chapel School District violated students' free speech when it punished them for protesting dress code. 03.05.09

Ark. school district seeks high court review of armbands case
By David L. Hudson Jr. Watson Chapel officials argue Tinker standard doesn't apply to protest over school uniforms. 12.23.08

Common sense — and good law — prevails in student-speech dispute
By Gene Policinski Decision squarely affirms that non-disruptive student speech, be it on issues of international interest or on local policies, is protected. 09.07.08

Clothing, dress codes & uniforms

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