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Suit Challenging Long Beach Uniform Policy Dropped

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California last week agreed to drop its lawsuit against a California school district after the district pledged to improve the way its mandatory school-uniform program was being implemented.

For more than a year, the 83,000-student Long Beach district has required all its elementary and middle school students to dress in uniform fashion. It was the first public school system in the nation to institute a districtwide uniform policy. (See Education Week, Feb. 14, 1996.)

Under district policy, parents can get exemptions from the uniform requirement for their children.

Informing Parents

But soon after the policy was put into place in fall 1994, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in state court on behalf of 26 low-income families, claiming that the policy neglected to adequately inform parents about their right to opt out of the program. ACLU lawyers also said the plan posed a financial burden on poor families who could not afford to buy uniforms for their children.

Under the agreement, the district pledged to distribute additional mailings to parents about the uniform policy as well as provide information about local charities that donate uniforms to students. District officials said charities have donated more than $180,000 worth of uniforms to district students since the program began.

District leaders also agreed to designate an official to be an ombudsman between the school system and parents, as well as install liaisons at elementary and middle schools who can assist parents with problems and questions about the uniform code.

Both parties seemed pleased last week that they were able to settle their differences out of court.

"We are thrilled that this has worked out, because parents will now know their rights and have help," said Ann Bradley, the media director of the ACLU of Southern California.

Dick Van Der Laan, the district's spokesman, said the decision was fair to all concerned. He said he was relieved that the plaintiffs dropped their initial request to require the district to provide six uniforms to each low-income student who requested them.

"That would have been a pretty substantial price tag," Mr. Van Der Laan said.

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