July 4, 2007

Tigger kneesocks girl wins.

Remember that middle school girl who sued over the dress code because she was put out not being allowed to wear her Tigger kneesocks? Well, she won:
A California judge has blocked a middle school from enforcing a dress code so strict that a student was punished for wearing socks with pictures of Winnie the Pooh on them.

The judge, Raymond A. Guadagni of Napa County Superior Court, issued a preliminary injunction against Redwood Middle School in Napa on Monday, ruling in favor of students and parents who sued the school in March, claiming that its Appropriate Attire Policy violated the right to free speech.

School officials have said the dress code was established to eliminate gang-related symbols and other provocative images.

But students have been punished for wearing denim, T-shirts with messages that warn against drug use and pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness.
We talked about this case back here (where it's clear that the image was not Pooh per se, but Pooh flunky Tigger). I tied it to the then-undecided "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case:
The school has designed its rule to be content- and viewpoint-neutral. I note that [Toni Kay] Scott also got in trouble for wearing a "drug prevention T-shirt." That's a good sign! I support the "Bong hits 4 Jesus" guy, but Tigger-kneesocks-drug-prevention girl needs to deal with it.
Now that the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" guy has lost, is the judge more wrong than he would have been before?

First, I'm not looking at the written opinion, and the judge may well have rested on a state law right to free speech. If that's the case, then "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" is irrelevant (conventional verbiage: except for its persuasive value). [ADDED: The opinion is not available in LEXIS.]

Second, there's a distinction between the two cases, but it's a distinction that I think puts the school in a stronger position, because it's not engaging in viewpoint discrimination (which "Bong Hits" permitted). Although a broader rule may feel more repressive to students, it's the way to make the policy viewpoint neutral.

It is better to forbid all messages, including the do-gooder messages Tigger kneesocks girl chose (wisely) to make her resistance to the policy more effective.

9 comments:

Kev said...

School administrators may have (usually) started their professional lives as teachers, but their current positions tend to morph them into politicians and bureaucrats. Since bureaucrats by their very nature tend to do useless things, they're always coming up with new, often pointless and draconian rules so that it looks like they're Doing Something. If they didn't continue to pile up these measures, everyone might see them for the useless drains on society that they really are.

I know that many have suggested the option of completely eliminating the public schools; I won't go that far, but I really do believe that we have to implement a system where administrators must teach. By having one foot in the current education world (and having that proverbial ivory tower taken away.) these teacher/administrators wil be able to make decisions that actually benefit the school and its students, rather than just doing something for the sake of doing something.

(I know I've posted that link before, and I swear I'm not trying to be a link-whore here; I just feel strongly about this subject and want as many people to discuss it as possible.)

Mr.Murder said...

Your lack of consistency is consistent.

Mark said...

California law is (alas) sympathetic to pathetic cases like this. Women who wear pant suits are a protected class in California. The trial judge had to exercise his independent judgment (no deference to the school) and had to issue an injunction unless he could find this was (basically) the only reasonable way to achieve the stated goal.

-mark

Peter Palladas said...

Is that it? Is this what your treasured Independence Day is all about: judges ruling on schoolgirl socks and free speech? Monty Python you should living now!

Get a grip is all this Brit can say.

Apart from the statement that I am really, really hacked off not to have noticed yesterday, the day I always have to play Van Morrison's 'Almost Independence Day' from the legendary album Saint Dominic's Preview.

Damn and heck but now I can't listen to that track for a whole year! Well actually I'm about to, only don't tell the judge.

Socks and 'free speech'? Ha, ha, ha, ha, frigging, ha, ha, ha!

Per-lease people, for the love of Jehovah wake frigging up!

Mike said...

Oh dear. The "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" decision really doesn't change anything in terms of running schools. I suppose the primary message is, and always was, that principals should use solid judgement and common sense in enforcing discipline.

That said, this may help some principals make such apparently taxing decisions:

Clothing to ban: Anything that exults drugs, sex, gangs or any illegal behavior, or that is disruptive to good discipline an learning in a school setting.

Clothing not to ban: Anything with Tigger on it.

Zero tolerance polices exist primarily to make life easier for unimaginative, foolish and rather dull principals. For anyone else, they breed disrespect for the reasonable enforcement of school discipline by punishing the innocent and sweeping up the unintentional in the same net as those who mean harm.

Eli Blake said...

Here's a thought:

How about 'zero tolerance except with the expess written permission of the school authorities?'

Most kids wouldn't bother in all likelihood, but those who had a garment with a message would just have to wear it to the office before school and get it approved (with a copy of the message being kept on file.) The policy would also specify that said student had to also bring a plain copy of said garment to change into if the message was disapproved.

Nah, that would make sense so they won't do it.

Ann Althouse said...

Apparently, Eli is trying to think up the most unconstitutional policy.

Bissage said...

Peter Palladas,

I need to start by saying you have long been one of my favorite Althouse commenters. That you also observe the obscure tradition of listening to Van Morrison’s “Almost Independence Day” makes you one of my favorite people on Earth. I trust that your observance, like mine, involves a generous application of The Macallan in the late night hour.

The album “Saint Dominic's Preview” has some great stuff on it. Pertinent, here, is the title track, itself, as Van the Man sings to the POP MUSIC CRITIC, as follows:

The restaurant tables are completely covered.
The record company has paid out for the wine.
You got everything in the world you ever wanted,
and right about now your face should wear a smile.

(incomprehensible)That's the way it all should happen
when you're in the state you're in.
Have you got your pen and notebook ready?
I think it's about time for us to begin.


Regular Althouse personage and world renowned POP MUSIC CRITIC Mr. Steve Simels, knows exactly what that’s all about.

That’s because he’s real smart.

He's so smart, in fact, that he comprehends perfectly what I designated as “incomprehensible.”

He’ll be visiting soon here at Althouse and he’ll enlighten us all, no doubt.

(Thank you, in advance, for your kindly expert assistance, Mr. Simels.)

Ann Althouse said...

Bissage: I'm afraid you may have scared the Simel away.