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You Call That a Dress Code?

A couple of days ago, we mentioned Waxahachie High School sophomore Pete Palmer, who, along with his parents, has decided to sue the school district over Pete's getting kicked outta school for wearing a "John Edwards 08" T-shirt. Well, yesterday his father, Paul Palmer, posted a comment to Unfair Park, which I thought I'd put into its own item for those who were wondering how a boy and his tee turned into a lawsuit. It begins thusly:

As one of the parents of the boy involved, I can tell you we never wanted to sue. The school board adopted a dress code that was clearly contrary to established Supreme Court caselaw on students' rights to free speech. This is not new law. It was first ruled on by the supreme court in 1969! The school board even recognized this in the policy it adopted on free expression. They violated one of the primary rules they swore to uphold -- the U.S. Constitution. That is a much more important rule breaking than our son standing up to a dress code. They are the rule breakers -- not Pete.

Pete wanted to do something he was entitled to do under the law. If a board adopts a rule that treads on your rights that they do not have the power to adopt are we supposed to require him to follow it simply because it is "the rule"? I thought as Americans we rejected that idea. Blindly following rules however wrong is not a value I remember reading about in American history. What I do remember is the value of insisting on adherence to the Constitution.

When we tried to talk to the school board they refused to engage in any meaningful discussion. We have always said they are entitled to enact a dress code. What we said they could not do was censor core first amendment political and religious speech. Let's repeat -- they allow t-shirts; they allow some words on t-shirts; and, they admit Pete was not causing any disruption. What they have is not so much a dress code as a speech code for t-shirts, and it is a code that prevents legitimate, protected speech.

For some reason, I can't get this out of my head. --Robert Wilonsky

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