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