Editor's note: The Associated Press reported on Dec. 15 that school district officials had agreed to pay $95,000 in attorneys fees to five families who sued over the dress code. The settlement also says Redwood Middle School may no longer require students to wear only solid-color clothing.
SAN FRANCISCO — A Northern California school district reluctantly — and
angrily — announced late last week that it would loosen a dress policy that was
so restrictive a student was disciplined for wearing a denim skirt and socks
portraying the cartoon character Tigger.
The American Civil Liberties Union and a prestigious San Francisco law firm
took up the student’s case on behalf of other students who had been disciplined
at Redwood Middle School in Napa for violating the dress code. The Napa Valley
Unified School District put the dress code in place at the middle school in the
mid-1990s to squelch gang activity.
The ACLU sued in March, accusing the district of stifling free speech.
According to the suit, students were punished for wearing T-shirts with the
Christian message “Jesus Freak,” pink shoes and blue jeans.
The school’s policy banned denim and required students to wear solid-colored
clothes in blue, white, green, yellow, khaki, gray, brown or black.
In July, a Napa County judge ordered the school to suspend enforcement of the
code while deciding the lawsuit.
But the district sent parents informational packets for the coming school
year that included the dress code at the center of the dispute. After lawyers
threatened to seek a fine and a contempt of court order, the school district on
Aug. 10 announced its new dress code, which ACLU attorney Julia Mass said
appears to have removed all the offending restrictions.
“We are not going to challenge it,” Mass said. “I believe it addresses the
But Mass noted the new code was labeled as an “interim dress policy” and said
the ACLU wouldn’t seek dismissal of the suit until a permanent code was
School district superintendent John Glaser said the school’s safety committee
would soon consider a permanent code. Glaser said the school was reluctantly
seeking to end the lawsuit only because of the mounting litigation costs, and he
urged parents who support the old dress code to voluntarily comply with its
“We believe that no students’ free-speech rights were, in fact or intent,
violated at Redwood Middle School,” Glaser wrote in a two-page press release.
Glaser said if the suit is resolved, the district “probably will not be able to
present our substantial evidence of gang related issues that have been prevented
by this policy.”