Court rules Arkansas school wrong to punish students who wore black armbands to protest dress code

A school district that punished students who wore black armbands to protestthe district’s uniform policy violated the students’ First Amendment rights, afederal judge ruled Sept. 13.

The case dates back to October 2006, when students and parents passed outmore than 200 black armbands for students to wear around their wrists or arms toshow their disagreement with the district’s dress code. The protest stemmed fromcomplaints that the policy passed the previous spring was too restrictive, evenstipulating exact numbers for buttons on shirts, belt holes and pants pockets.The policy did allow students to wear personal jewelry and similar items as longas those items did not overlap the uniform.

Judge Leon Holmes ruled that although the Watson Chapel School District’sdress code policy was legal, punishing students for protesting it was not.

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SPLC View: No, it’s not 1968 again. But apparently that didn’t makeany difference to these Arkansas school administrators who apparently didn’tknow — or didn’t care — that the U.S. Supreme Court already answered thisquestion about black armbands in its 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des MoinesIndep. Community School Dist., the landmark case brought by Mary Beth Tinker andothers when school officials — nearly four decades ago — told them theycouldn’t wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War and the Courttold school officials they were wrong. It’s really time for school officialseverywhere to get over this one.

Case: Lowry v. Watson Chapel Sch. Dist., No. 5:06CV00262 (E.D. Ark.Sept.14, 2007).