(CN) – A Texas school district’s dress code banning shirts with words on them doesn’t violate students’ free-speech rights, the 5th Circuit ruled.
Paul Palmer, then a sophomore at Waxahachie High in the Waxahachie Independent School District, wore a shirt to school in September 2007 with the words “San Diego” written on it. His assistant principal told him the shirt violated the district’s dress code.
Palmer called his parents, who then brought him a “John Edwards for President ’08” T-shirt instead. That shirt wasn’t allowed, either.
Palmer sued in April 2008, claiming the dress code violated his First Amendment right to free speech. But because the school district had adopted a new dress code for the upcoming year four days before the hearing, the court dismissed Palmer’s motion without prejudice.
The new dress code was more restrictive and banned polo shirts with messages, shirts with professional sports team logos and university shirts.
Palmer then submitted three shirts to the school district for approval, two of which were John Edwards for President shirts. The third was a T-shirt with “Freedom of Speech” written on the front and the text of the First Amendment on the back.
The district rejected all three.
Palmer again sued, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court had established a “bright-line rule that schools cannot restrict speech that is not disruptive, lewd, school-sponsored or drug-related.”
In siding with the school district, the New Orleans-based appeals court called Palmer’s argument “flawed, because it fails to include another type of student speech restriction that schools can institute: content-neutral regulations.”
“The (school) district was in no way attempting to suppress any student’s expression through its dress code – a critical fact based on earlier student speech cases – so the dress code is content-neutral.”