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Student Expression
Educational Law Artifact #3
Christine Smith


A large high school in the northeastern United States initiated a policy prohibiting the wearing of
gang symbols such as jewelry, emblems, earrings, and athletic caps. This policy was developed
based on gang activities that were prevalent in the school. Bill Foster, who was not involved in
gang activity, wore an earring to school as a form of self-expression and a belief that the earring
was attractive to young ladies. He was suspended for his act. Consequently, he filed suit.

Initially it appears that Bills freedom of expression rights were violated because he was
simply wearing an earring. However, the schools policy prohibiting the wearing of jewelry,
emblems, earrings, and athletic caps is clear. The fact that he was never involved in any gang
activity is irrelevant, and regardless of the reason Bill was wearing the earring, he clearly
violated the schools dress code/attire policy. Therefore, Bills freedom of expression right was
not violated.
There have been recent precedents set regarding attire in public schools. In 2010 a West
Virginia federal district court upheld a students suspension for writing a slogan on his hands
about freeing a classmate who was accused of shooting a police officer (Brown v. Cabel County
Board of Education). (1)

More recently, the 2012 case of Kuhr v. Millard Public School

District, a Nebraska federal court supported school authorities in suspending students for
wearing bracelets and T-shirts with the phrase, Julius RIP in remembrance of their friend who
had been shot at his apartment allegedly for gang-related reasons. (1) In both cases the courts
agreed that their attire could trigger violence or gang-related disturbances. Therefore, based on


the precedents set forth by these two cases, the courts would not support Bills claim that his selfexpression rights were violated. Although Bill asserts that his right to self-expression has been
violated, the case appears to be more about violating the schools dress code/attire policy.
Despite what students make think, restrictions can be placed on student grooming and attire if
based on legitimate educational and safety objectives and not intended to suppress expression.
Students have been asserting the right to express themselves since the late1960s.
Despite the Tinker decision, which expanded First Amendment protection, students do not need
to rely only on constitutional protections because their rights are also protected by the Equal
Access Act which also protects students expression and association. The Equal Access Act is a
federal Act passed in the year 1984 to compel federally-funded secondary schools to provide
equal access to extracurricular clubs. The Act provides that it shall be unlawful for any public
secondary school which receives Federal financial assistance and which has a limited open
forum to deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who
wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of the religious, political,
philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings. (3)


(1) Cambron-McCabe, N.H., McCarthy, M.M., Eckes, S.E. (2014) Legal Rights of
Teachers And Students, Third Edition. (p.114); Pearson Education, New Jersey.
(2) Cambron-McCabe, N.H., McCarthy, M.M., Eckes, S.E. (2014) Legal Rights of
Teachers And Students, Third Edition. (p.113); Pearson Education, New Jersey.