Va. school district settles lawsuit with student who sued over dress code

VIRGINIA — A middle school student who sued his schooldistrict over its dress code has agreed to settle the case with the schoolboard.Eighth-grader Alan Newsom and his father sued Albemarle CountySchool Board in September 2002, alleging that a Jack Jouett Middle Schoolassistant principal violated his First Amendment right to free expression byrequiring him to wear his National Rifle Association T-shirt inside out. Thepurple T-shirt included the phrase “NRA Sports Shooting Camp” and featured threesilhouettes of men holding guns. Both sides said they could not disclosedetails of the settlement.”This was a case that should never have had togo to litigation,” said Dan Zavadil, Newsom’s attorney, who took the case onbehalf of the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund. “A student’s rights are clear andwere clear at the time that we started. [We] made efforts to resolve this shortof litigation. At one point, we even offered to accept just an apology and [apromise that the school] won’t do it again.”When the administrator askedNewsom to conceal the image on his shirt, the school’s dress code did notprohibit clothing depicting weapons, according to court documents. Theadministrator told Newsom to wear the T-shirt inside out because the shirtreminded her of the Columbine High School shootings, court documents say.The school board then changed the policy, banning all images of weaponson clothing. In December 2003, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appealsfor the Fourth Circuit ruled that Albemarle County School Board could notenforce its revised dress code until the lawsuit was resolved. The court ruledthe revised policy was too broad and that the NRA T-shirt did not disrupt theschool.According to the settlement, reached Feb.20, “The partiesrecognize the rights and responsibilities of the students in the school systemand the School Board’s continued support for its teachers andadministrators.”Newsom sought $100,000 in compensatory damages and$50,000 in punitive damages, as well as legal fees, which the NRA estimated tobe $127,000 in mid-January, according to a Feb. 26 article in The Hookmagazine. “It is somewhat ironic that we’ve got a First Amendment casethat we can’t talk about,” Zavadil said, referring to an agreement that theterms of the settlement not be disclosed.The Jouett Handbook has beenrevised to allow students to wear an article of clothing “provided it does notdisrupt the educational environment. ” The revision has been distributed tostudents.Under the new policy, Newsom could wear his NRA T-shirt, saidMark Trank, the deputy attorney for Albemarle County. The U.S. Supreme Court’sdecision in the case Tinker v. Des Moines Community School Districtapplies to the student dress code in this case, he said.In that decision,the court ruled that public school students ”do not shed theirconstitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhousegate.”

Newsom v. Albemarle County School Board, No. 03-1125 (4th Circuit, Dec. 1, 2003)

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