School Dress Code Repercussions

By Edwin C. Darden

T-shirts can get pretty raunchy these days. Look no further than these four popular messages found on the front of shirts for teenage girls:

• Legal-ish

• Yes, They’re a Handful

• I Know What Boys Want

• Behind Every Great Girl -- Is a Guy Checking Her Out

For school board members in one Texas district, this kind of fashion statement was more than they could stand. The solution was a dress code that banned all shirts with printed messages. Small logos were allowed and shirts that publicize school clubs, school sports teams, or school spirit were permitted -- but otherwise, no exceptions.

After having several T-shirts rejected, high school student Paul T. Palmer and his parents filed a lawsuit claiming the Waxahachie Independent School District infringed on the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of free speech -- which presumably extends to the right of students to be as suggestive and crass as their irreverent minds can imagine and apparel companies can create for T-shirt sayings.

In August 2009, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the school policy. The three-judge panel delivered a win to a board of education that courageously drew a line saying, essentially: Enough is enough. For superintendents and board members nationwide, an important lesson is embedded in that unassuming court decision. 

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