School uniforms are legal in public schools, according to a decision last month by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The May 12 ruling in San Francisco was the result of an incident at a Las Vegas high school where a student wore a shirt with religious slogans instead of the school-sanctioned uniform of khakis and a solid color shirt with the school’s logo. The student was suspended four times for a total of 25 days.
The court ruled 2-1 to overturn the original decision of a federal court judge in 2005, which had stated that the uniform impinged on the plaintiff’s right to free speech and free exercise of religion.
In the majority opinion, the Court of Appeals ruled that uniform policies do not violate constitutional rights because it applies equally to all students while serving legitimate concerns of administrators, among them safety and distractions from learning.
Judge Sidney Thomas, in his dissenting opinion, argued that the decision violated the Supreme Court precedent set by Tinker v. Des Moines, which allows students to wear attire that expresses an opinion, so long as that opinion does not disrupt classroom conduct.
School administrators in Davis said they don’t expect the ruling to have an impact locally but are receptive to the idea. The Davis Joint Unified School District does not have a uniform policy in place.
“I feel that uniforms do set a calm tone at a school site,” said Derek Brothers, principal at Holmes Junior High School, in an e-mail interview.
Diane Studley, principal at Emerson Junior High School, said uniforms can bring an emphasis back to learning.
“Sometimes it focuses students on the primary reason they are attending school,” she said by e-mail.
Both principals said that dress code violations are a concern at their schools. Studley said the greatest concern was with clothing “that might support gang affiliation, advocacy for drug use or sexual exploitation.” Dress code violations are most prominent at the beginning and end of the school year, in September and again in early May, Brothers said.
Studley was very supportive of requiring uniforms.
“After almost 30 years of serving in the public education system, I see no drawbacks [to a uniform policy]. Students can still have freedom to express themselves and wear a uniform.”
Brothers was less optimistic about the potential for a uniform policy.
“The parent community has always been against it. It takes away from their child’s right of free expression,” he said.
Both administrators agreed that a uniform policy being instituted in the Davis Joint Unified School District is unlikely in foreseeable future.
J. DANA STUSTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.