SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Public schools do not violate students’ free-speech rights by forcing them to wear uniforms, the 9th Circuit ruled on a 2-1 vote. The majority held that a Las Vegas school district’s mandatory uniform policies “survive constitutional scrutiny.”
A group of students challenged school policies throughout Clark County School, including Liberty High School’s policy requiring all students to wear “solid khaki-colored bottoms and solid-colored polo, tee or button-down shirts.”
Plaintiff Kimberly Jacobs was suspended five times during her junior year in high school for wearing a T-shirt with religious slogans.
Students argued that the policies are not as content-neutral as they seem, because the schools allow students to wear shirts with school logos on them. The appeals court said the students raised a “colorable claim,” but their argument does not “convert a content-neutral school uniform policy into a content-based one.” A school logo expresses “little, if any, genuine communicative message” that the district prefers expressions of school pride, Judge Hawkins wrote.
In short, the court decided that the uniform policies minimally restrict the district’s stated interest in “increasing student achievement, promoting safety and enhancing a positive school environment.”
Judge Thomas dissented.