Many – possibly even most - school districts have a dress code for students. And they vary considerably in their detail.
The Clark County School District’s middle school dress code is nine pages, single-spaced. Even with that level of detail, what is acceptable is sometimes a point of disagreement.
That was the case with a student at Ralph Cadwallader Middle School. Student Lorelei Woodard likes to dye her hair, but school administrators objected.
Lorelei told KNPR's State of Nevada that she had dyed her hair purple around Halloween, but nothing was said or done at the time.
Then just a few weeks ago, she was pulled aside during lunch and told she had to change her hair.
“They said the only reason they were changing it was because it had become a distraction, but they gave us no evidence,” Lorelei said.
Lorelei fought back. She gathered more than 2,000 signatures both online and on paper. She went before the school board with her plea. Finally, the ACLU of Nevada got involved.
Amy Rose is the legal director at the ACLU. She said they became involved in Lorelei's case because it was a case they felt they could make a difference with.
Rose said people need to be reminded that, “as a student, you don’t shed your First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gates.”
Students still have a right to free expression and free speech even at school; however, schools are allowed to put some reasonable curbs on those rights, “If the speech or expression is causing a significant disruption or is likely to cause disruption,” Rose explained the school can stop it.
But in this case, Rose and Lorelei said neither the school district nor the principal could show that Lorelei's hair was a distraction.
“If it is causing some kind of substantial disruption or it is really hurting the children’s ability to learn, I think there is more of a case to limit that right but here it really was just Lorelei who wanted to color her hair,” Rose said.
In the end, the principal and administration agreed to let Lorelei and another student at her school keep her hair color. Now, Lorelei would like to have the policy on hair color clarified around the district.
Statement from CCSD:
-Why is CCSD declining to talk with KNPR about the hair color issue and about Lorelei?
"Due to federal privacy laws, the district is not able to comment on specific student cases and situations. Having a student participate on an interview panel as part of [KNPR’s] State of Nevada makes it highly likely that the specific details of that student's situation will be discussed, which is a conversation that CCSD employees are not legally allowed to participate in."
-What is CCSD’s position about student hair color?
CCSD Regulation 5131 states in part:
Students dress, personal appearance, and conduct are required to be of such character as not to disrupt or detract from the educational environment of the school. Any style which tends to diminish instructional effectiveness or discipline control by teachers is not acceptable.
The school administration shall have the right to designate which types of dress, fashion, fads, or appearance disrupt or detract from the educational program and may be a potential safety hazard.
"Principals at each individual school know their school's culture and climate, and therefore, are given the autonomy to decide what impact particular behaviors and incidents have on their educational environment.
"A flyer addressing this matter was sent home with all students and a ParentLink message (automated calling system) went out from the school on April 1. An additional ParentLink message was sent out informing parents that enforcement of this matter was to begin April 18.
"While a principal’s main job is to focus on academics, there are many other factors that they have to deal with on a daily basis that ultimately impact academics. Several studies have shown that school climate impacts academics. Principals know their students and school climate, and ultimately are accountable for what occurs on campus, CCSD supports our principals as long as they are following policies and regulations."
Amy Rose, legal director at the ACLU of Nevada; Lorelei Woodard, Clark County middle school student
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