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A Phoenix middle school's mandatory-uniform policy does not violate students' First Amendment rights to free expression, even if the policy does not give students the option of not wearing uniforms, an Arizona state judge has ruled.

Lawyers for Phoenix Elementary School District 1 say they believe the ruling by Judge Michael Jones of Maricopa County Superior Court was the first in the nation to uphold a school-uniform policy with no opt-out provision. "It's a very important victory for school districts,'' says Mary Ellen Simonson, a lawyer for the district. "[Mandatory uniforms] are a small reform with a lot of big advantages.''

At issue in the case was the uniform policy at the Phoenix Preparatory Academy, a public middle school where the 1,300 7th and 8th grade students must wear white collared shirts and blue slacks, shorts, or skirts. Two families challenged the policy in a lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The students, Analicia Ortiz and Dustin Green, wore T-shirts with religious and patriotic messages to protest the policy and have been barred from the school.

In a brief opinion following the trial, Judge Jones ruled that the school district acted reasonably by adopting the uniform policy for the middle school. The district had legitimate goals of eliminating gang-related clothing and placing students of varying socioeconomic levels "on an even footing in regard to their appearances'' to promote a more effective climate for learning, the judge said. "It is not for this court to second-guess the decision of the school board as to whether a parental opt-out policy is more reasonable than the mandatory-uniform policy,'' the judge wrote.

--Mark Walsh

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