The following is a flyer I did some years ago, recently discovered in my scrapbook and typed up to go under my memories section. Though lacking in form (I compromised some technical things in order to make it fit one page in newspaper layout) it seemed to go over well with teachers and students.
The following day I was sitting at a lunch table when the principal walked up to the student he had suspended and said, “Of all my years teaching here, I’ll confess to making two or three mistakes. One of those was sending you home and I’m sorry.”
I know it was a teeny high school battle, but back then it felt like I’d won a war.
If you don’t understand a ruling, it might be unconstitutional.
A student was recently suspended for attending school with pink hair and many disagree with the principal’s decision to penalize her. This document has been distributed in an attempt to inform others about the freedom of expression in our public school. It is not intended to influence defiance. Some of you have had to change “inappropriate attire” due to an alleged disruption. Lines are legally drawn here when it comes to this: endangering the health and safety of students, opposing to the school’s mission (referring to drugs, tobacco, alcohol, obscenity, profanity, etc), and materially or substantially disrupting school operations or interfering with the rights of others. Basically, indecent, immodest clothing can be banned.
Courts will not, however, tolerate school districts that restrict certain clothing through dress code policies because of mere preference or taste. A prohibition against expression of opinion without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments (Tinker v. Des Moines, pp. 507-514).
Though not a school case, something can be learned from Cohen v. California (403 U.S. 15) which prohibits “maliciously and willfully disturbing the peace…by…offensive conduct”. The back of Cohen’s jacket had a four-letter expletive on it. Without a more particularized and compelling reason for action than distaste, the State could not make Cohen’s display a criminal offense. Why didn’t he lose? Because he had the right to express his opinion and anyone disturbed could effectively avoid further bombardment of their sensibilities simply by averting their eyes. Possibly not a bad idea for those so mentally exhausted at the sight of pink hair.
If your speech, symbolic or otherwise, isn’t unreasonably disrupting school functions and isn’t drug related, vulgar, gang-related or been proven to be distracting then prohibition due to a weak idea that it *might* be or *become* a problem is unconstitutional. Any departure from absolute regimentation may cause trouble. Any variation from the majority’s opinion may inspire fear. Any word spoken in class, in the lunchroom or on campus deviating from the views of another person may start an argument. But indifferent fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression. Our constitution encourages us to take this risk (Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1).
The courts have decided that public schools are an appropriate place to exercise symbolic speech. Burnside v. Byars clearly explains that school officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Whether in or out of school, we are persons under our constitution and should not be confined to those sentiments that are officially approved. Our fellow student with pink hair was going about her ordained rounds in school no differently than if she had shown up in red, white or blue. The student body fails to see how she interrupted school activities or intruded in the school affairs and lives of others. Discussion between classrooms? Maybe. But disorder? Unlikely.
Did pink hair prove to be a distraction or was it just ruled as one?