Education

9th Circuit Casts Doubt on Policy Requiring School Uniform With Motto

By Mark Walsh — February 14, 2014 2 min read

A federal appeals court has cast legal doubt on a Nevada school district’s uniform policy, holding that requiring students to wear shirts with the motto “Tomorrow’s Leaders” is a form of compelled speech that implicates the First Amendment.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, stopped short of striking down the uniforms of Roy Gomm Elementary School in the Washoe County school district. The court said the district did not have the chance to present justifications for the infringement on speech because a family’s lawsuit was dismissed in a federal trial court at an early stage.

The 9th Circuit panel also held that an exception to the school uniform policy allowing students to wear Boy Scout or Girl Scout uniforms on days they have meetings was a content-based restriction that also implicated the free speech clause.

The uniform policy at the Reno, Nev., school drew an objection in 2011 from Mary Frudden, the mother of a 5th grade boy and 3rd grade girl. Court papers say the students initially challenged the policy by wearing their American Youth Soccer Organization uniforms to school, with Ms. Frudden arguing to school officials that the soccer outfits met the policy’s exemption covering scouting uniforms. That didn’t fly, and the Frudden children were forced to wear the school uniforms, which include a depiction of a gopher for Roy Gomm Elementary and the “Tomorrow’s Leaders” motto.

The Fruddens sued the Washoe County district on free speech grounds. A federal district court dismissed the suit, citing a 2008 9th Circuit decision that upheld another Nevada school district’s uniform policy. But the uniforms at issue in that case, Jacobs v. Clark County School District, were, for the most part, plain polo shirts and khakis and did not involve a leadership motto.

In its unanimous Feb. 14 decision in Frudden v. Pilling, the 9th Circuit court panel distinguished the 2008 ruling.

In the new case, the court said, the Washoe County school’s “inclusion of the motto ‘Tomorrow’s Leaders’ on its uniform shirts is not meaningfully distinguishable from the state of New Hampshire’s inclusion of the motto ‘Live Free or Die’ on its license plates.” That was a reference to a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Wooley v. Maynard, that struck down the Granite State’s requirement that motorists display the historic motto.

“Practically speaking, [Roy Gomm Elementary School] compels its students to be an instrument for displaying the RGES motto,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen wrote for the court. “Had the RGES uniforms consisted of plain-colored tops and bottoms, as in Jacobs, RGES would have steered clear of any First Amendment concerns. However, by mandating the written motto on the uniform shirts, the RGES policy compels speech.”

The court panel went on to hold that the exemption for scouting uniforms was a content-based distinction that also raised First Amendment concerns.

The court said the school district should be given the chance at the district court level to justify its policy under a strict scrutiny standard. The panel even suggested that “on remand, the elementary school context may be relevant in weighing [the school’s] interest in including the motto on the uniform shirt.” But the court basically said the record was undeveloped with respect to the school district’s justifications.

[Hat Tip, with no mottoes, to How Appealing.]

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read