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Posted by on Aug 17, 2008 in Society | 15 comments

High School dress codes: the Confederate flag & the boy in the hot pink boots

Can High Schools enforce dress codes? Or do dress codes violate the teenage students’ free speech rights? Let’s consider the following two cases…

David Shraub points to the case of the Knoxville, TN, area teen suspended for wearing the Confederate flag:

“This case is about much more than Tom Defoe.”

That statement by Defoe’s attorney Wednesday was the one thing on which he and his courtroom opponent agree in the legal battle over the Anderson County school system’s quarter-century-old ban on the display of the Confederate flag.

It was 18-year-old Defoe who was suspended from Anderson County High School in 2006 after repeatedly refusing, albeit politely, to take off or cover a T-shirt and belt buckle bearing the Rebel battle flag. It was Defoe who has been sitting at the table in U.S. District Court this week as the plaintiff in a lawsuit that labels the ban an unconstitutional violation of the teenager’s right to free speech.

If you are inclined to believe he should be able to wear his t-shirt and belt buckle would you then also say he should be free to show up in hot pink knee-length boots?

The family of the murdered Oxnard, CA, gay cross-dressing teen, Lawrence King, will be suing their son’s school claiming the school didn’t enforce its dress code:

The boy’s parents, Dawn and Gregory King, along with his younger brother, Rocky King, are seeking unspecified damages related to the fatal shooting of the 15-year-old boy as he sat in English class at E.O. Green School on Feb. 12. …

In the claims, the Kings say school and county staff members failed to enforce the middle school’s dress code.

That put the feminine-dressing King at particular risk at a time when staff members knew he had “unique vulnerabilities” and was “susceptible to abuse” because of his perceived sexual orientation, the claim says. …

King had told friends he was gay, and he wore makeup, jewelry and high-heeled boots with his school uniform — something Dannenberg said the teen had the freedom to do under his First Amendment rights.

The school’s dress code prevents students from wearing articles of clothing considered distracting. Much broader — and thus more likely to survive a court challenge? — than the specific Confederate flag ban in Tennessee.

My own thought is that dress codes for kids are fine. I see us demanding that schools do more and more of our parenting, so we shouldn’t take away their tools.

For those following the case of Brandon McInerney (the teen who shot King), he entered a not guilty plea last week. The judge has ruled that his lawyers may view records documenting King’s behavior.