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Law School Case Brief

Barr v. Lafon - 538 F.3d 554 (6th Cir. 2008)


The United States Supreme Court has made clear that students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. The constitutional rights of students in public school are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings, and courts must apply the rights of student in light of the special circumstances of the school environment.


Plaintiff students filed claims based on the First Amendment, Equal Protection Clause, and Due Process. They claimed that they wanted to express their southern heritage by wearing clothing depicting the Confederate flag at school. The school had declared a policy that students would not be allowed to have Rebel flags or symbols of the Rebel flag on their clothing, or anything else that was a disruption to the school. The district court ruled in favor of the defendants, principal, school directors and school board. Plaintiffs appealed.


Does a school’s dress code violate the First Amendment protection of the plaintiff students?




The Court held that because the distinction between the wearing of racially divisive and racially inclusive symbols pertained to expressive conduct within the protection of the First Amendment, the provision of the school's dress code had to be narrowly tailored to serve a substantial governmental interest. The government interest in the case was undeniably a substantial one. The evidence on the record established that the school enforced the dress code in a viewpoint-neutral manner to ban those racially divisive symbols that the school reasonably forecasted would substantially and materially disrupt schoolwork and school discipline.

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