March 22, 2007

Suing the school over your Tigger kneesocks.

Free speech for students is a big topic this week, what with the "Bong hits 4 Jesus" case. Here's a new one:
Strict dress codes are common at many public schools in California, but Toni Kay Scott, 14, says her school crossed a constitutional line when it punished her for wearing knee socks with the Winnie-the-Pooh character Tigger.

“I’ve been dress coded many times for little things,” said Ms. Scott, an honor student at Redwood Middle School in Napa. “Like wearing a shirt with a little Dickies or butterfly logo the size of my thumb.”

Ms. Scott is among six students who have filed a lawsuit against the school and the Napa Valley Unified School District saying the dress code is “unconstitutionally vague, overbroad and restrictive.” Filed Monday in Napa Valley Superior Court, the suit says the dress code violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments by creating an “aesthetic conformity in the name of safety.”

The dress code forbids students to wear certain colors and apparel with writing, insignia, pictures, words and letters. It was largely intended do away with gang-related and other provocative symbols.
The school has designed its rule to be content- and viewpoint-neutral. I note that 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.

UPDATE: By contrast:
Heidi Zamecnik, 17, of Naperville, and Alexander Nuxoll, 14, filed the lawsuit against Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois on Wednesday, seeking the court's permission to openly express their opinions on homosexuality during an April 18 event meant to protest discrimination against gays.

In response to a National Day of Silence event at the school in April 2006, Zamecnik wore a shirt that read "My day of silence, Straight Alliance" on the front and "Be happy, not gay" on the back, according to the suit....

According to the suit, one school administrator ordered Zamecnik to remove the T-shirt and another official ordered her to cross out "not gay" with a marker.
This demonstrates what's so good about the Redwood Middle School type of dress code.


Smilin' Jack said...

Tigger-kneesocks-drug-prevention girl needs to deal with it.

Absolutely. This school is teaching her a valuable lesson. And the lesson is that school authorities, like so many of the authorities she will deal with later in life, are idiots.

George M. Spencer said...

I could understand Eeyore socks being banned because of all the negative energy they put out, but not way-bouncy Tigger apparel.

Beth said...

I hate mandatory uniforms in schools, vague dress codes no matter how neutral they try to be, and educators who have nothing better to do than measure skirt length and hair length, and size up socks and t-shirts. I'm swimming against the tide of Americans' instincts to get over it and just go along to get along, but I still hate it. Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone!

RogerA said...

I am SO glad I went thru the public school system between 1947 and 1959--what a crock!

monkeyboy said...

I went to Catholic High School and Military College, I don't remember my individuality being surpressed.

Hey said...

All schools should have uniforms. Solves so many problems for discipline, social hierarchy, etc.

Ann Althouse said...

If rules like this are striken down for "vagueness" -- which is the argument -- it will tend to force schools to go to uniforms.

PatCA said...

But if it's stricken for vagueness, wouldn't the school then have to make moral or ethical judgments? For instance, that gang colors are bad and anti-drug messages are good?

Seems to me they're caught in an impossible double-bind and rendered vague and impotent by their own moral equivocation.

Synova said...

And if they are going to have uniforms then they should have uniforms.

Having uniforms but pretending you don't have uniforms is going to have problems.

But the real problem is that school officials absolutely refuse to take personal responsibility for making judgements of any kind and fall back on anal rule following to excuse themselves from it.

They can't have a rule with the standard of "reasonable" that allowed them to tell some kids to turn their shirts inside out while allowing other kids a manufacturers or pooh-bear decal because then they'd have to face annoyed parents without the "I have to follow the rules, of course I think it's silly but I have no choice" way out of it.

So just have uniforms. At least it's honest.

Drew W said...

My local public swimming pool (in Red Hook, Brooklyn) has a strict no logos/no colors policy for t-shirts because of the possibility of provocations to gang violence. (As remarkably childish as I view gang behavior, I suppose it's better to play their game and enforce a dress code than to have your child shot on the way home in some t-shirt-inspired firefight.) I'm just not sure which gang this girl in the item belongs to. The Tigs? Would she be inviting retaliatory violence by crossing over into Pooh territory?

I wonder why people invested with small amounts of authority seem never to stop themselves for a second and think, "Well, I guess I could discipline this girl over her Tigger knee-socks . . . but it would make me look really, really stupid, so I think I'll let this one pass."

The fact that the term "dress code" is used as a verb by his girl suggests that violations of this sort as pretty commonplace in her school. And that, in turn, suggests that there are a lot of administrators in the Napa Valley Unified School District with a little too much time on their hands.

XWL said...

No "Tigger, Please", jokes?

Does seem like an actual uniform would make the most sense if you are going to have such a restrictive dress code.

When did 'zero tolerance' become the operating principle for all student/administration interactions?

The zero tolerance movement is about absolving decision makers from the need to make decisions. Rather than applying common sense on a case by case basis, just punish all infractions as if they were serious infractions seems to be the rule of the day.

But the stupidity of 'zero tolerance' doesn't change the fact that this girl doesn't have case. Should her lawyer be punished for filing a nuisance suit destined to fail?

monkeyboy said...

Zero tolerance does limit the chance that a lawyer will come in. If you make exeptions for one, you can be sued for not making another exception.

Cowardly, but understandable.

Free Lunch said...

It's certainly a lot easier to invent inane rules to try to move gang violence to another location than actually deal with the problems of gang violence.

My favorite bizarre result came from three and a half decades ago, when I was in high school. Girls at my high school were still required to wear a skirt or dress, so one of the girls who had a perfectly acceptable pants suit, wore the just-long-enough top during classes to avoid being 'dress coded'. When she was no longer in class at the end of the day, she finished getting dressed.

tiggeril said...


Ernie Fazio said...

Query: What if the Pooh gear is gang oriented, and the colors and patterns have girl gang meaning? Would that make the supression of her rights justifiable? Is the school by banning all gang gear, tigger wear included, making a proper exercise of its parens patria responsibility to protect its students against violence or the potential for violence? Discuss.

Joan said...

No logos means no logos, even on socks. ITA with Ann, this girl just needs to deal with it.

As a former Catholic school student and a parent, I love dress codes. Saves me all manner of time and trouble over the "what to wear to school" question every day.

PeterP said...

I'm sorry, but I decline to comment in public on the thoroughly salacious topic of suitable leg-wear for American high school girls; leastways not until the comments become appropriately inappropriate.

Save to say that our local Catholic high school insists that all girls wear white stockings to just above the knee. Nor hairy woollen socks, but self-support nylons.

Never heard anyone complain.

Synova said...

Dress codes don't solve the problem of what to wear at all.

Uniforms do, though.

Joe said...

Uniforms do, though.

Only if you live in fantasy land.

The sexualization of uniforms take days. If you're lucky, like in Japan, you end with an entire subculture obsessed with them.

Some months ago I ran across an article discussion something with schools, but not dress codes, and they used a picture of a bunch of students in uniforms waiting for a bus. It was very funny; some girls had their uniforms altered "just right" shall we say. Moreover, you could identify at a glance who was rich and who wasn't.

(I graduated High School in 1980. My wife in 1983. We've agreed that those were the last of the carefree days before the heavy hand of the self-righteous assholes decided they needed to fix something that wasn't broken.)

Joe said...

What if the Pooh gear is gang oriented, and the colors and patterns have girl gang meaning?

Alas, my children go to a school where something similar is a problem. The student body has divided into two groups; Disney and Warner Brothers. The latter are terrible, often flinging anvils and sticks of dynamite at the Disney crowd. Curse you ACME!

Free Lunch said...

I don't really think that rules like this are remotely a problem at the constitutional level, but they seldom pass the students' giggle test. Dress codes and mandated uniforms do seem to bring out a lot of creativity on the part of students. That's probably not a bad thing, but I doubt that it's what the school administrations want.

If gangs really want to make statements, they will find ways to do it -- and stay well ahead of the superintendents and assistant principals.

Sorry, joe, but I'd have to go with Loony Toons over the Mouse.

Matt said...

Dress codes are just another way for teachers and principles to flaunt their authority rather than teach.
Clearly many schools are not interested in developing individuals who can think for themselves. Instead the lesson is; Follow the rules [no matter how petty], stand in line, be like everyone else, don't question us and we won't flunk you.

Unknown said...

Another argument for removing the schools from government control. An entity that is not competent to routinely differentiate between gang attire and ordinary childhood cultural icons, is not competent to educate people.

Smilin' Jack said...

Ann Althouse said...
If rules like this are striken
(sic) down for "vagueness" -- which is the argument -- it will tend to force schools to go to uniforms.

Yes, if it's struck down, what other choice could there possibly be? In fact, since gangs are a problem outside of school as well as in, and many gang members are well past school age, there's really no choice but to make everyone wear a uniform at all times. Can't be too careful, you know....

Synova said...

And none of it would be a problem except for the fact that our laws require compulsory attendance at state funded schools.

Yes, some can buy educational offsets and get out of it, but the rule is compulsory attendance at state funded schools.

At a private school a principal can squash free-speech because no one is required to attend that school with only a few limits on that. (Same with employers.) But a public high school can't decide to allow some speech and disallow other speech because the students don't have any choice of being there and the people paying for it, the taxpayers, have no choice but to pay for it.

"Be happy, not gay" ought to reside under a free speech cover, and was apparently in direct response to a "ain't it great to be gay" message that *was* endorsed by the school.

The solution is to avoid all speech and take no sides and promote nothing.

Ben Masel said...

If Napa's ban on certain colors in intended to prevent notification of gang (political?) affiliation, it's not content-neutral.

Seven Machos said...

I hate this rule and I think the middle school administrators are ridiculous (as most school administrators are). However, it's on school property; it's during school. Consequently, there aren't a lot of constitutional rights to be had.

Also, it's not like these kids are bereft of options, either. There's home schooling. There's moving. There's possibly other school options in the area.

Bad law does not equal unconstitutional law.

Ben Masel said...

Tinker v Des Moines

Could the School district have banned Tinker's black armband by banning black?

JimM47 said...

Beware of petty authority.

The stated purposes of uniforms (repressing sexuality, hiding class differences, preventing visible affiliations) always seem to be poorly served by them, not to mention questionable as educational policy and dubious as goals for the state to be engaged in.

PeterP said...

On the back of a recent court case that upheld the right of a school to ban a pupil from wearing the niqab [face veil] on the grounds that it impeded teaching, the Government [UK] is to issue 'uniform guidance' - pun intended it seems - that all schools will have the right to dictate what is inappropriate dress on grounds of 'security, safety or learning.'

The is meant to include notions of 'community cohesion' i.e. anything that marks someone out as anything between a gang aficionado and so effing rich they pay $1000 for a pair of socks [case in my old school].

Religious dress is to continue to be permitted - headscarves/turbans/pectoral crosses et al. - but nothing de trop.

No mention of white stockings, which is sad.

The youngster involved in the court case had - surprise, surprise - argued that her 'human rights' had been violated in not allowing her to wear the niqab at school.

Am presently drafting a 'Bill of Human Responsibilities'. Contributions or clauses welcomed.

BTW - my teen daughter's take on this debate when interrogated was to aver that teachers too should have proper dress codes as most of what they wear is so 'shaming'. Bad, bad styling abounds.

Probably got a point.

SGT Ted said...

"I'm just not sure which gang this girl in the item belongs to. The Tigs? Would she be inviting retaliatory violence by crossing over into Pooh territory?"

Yo yo, whats up my tiggahs!