Law School Case Brief
Blau v. Fort Thomas Pub. Sch. Dist. - 401 F.3d 381 (6th Cir. 2005)
The United States Supreme Court has recognized a fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their children. And while this right plainly extends to the public school setting, it is not an unqualified right. While parents may have a fundamental right to decide whether to send their child to a public school, they do not have a fundamental right generally to direct how a public school teaches their child. Whether it is the school curriculum, the hours of the school day, school discipline, the timing and content of examinations, the individuals hired to teach at the school, the extracurricular activities offered at the school or, a dress code, these issues of public education are generally committed to the control of state and local authorities.
The Highlands Middle School Council held a meeting where several parents proposed a dress code for the school to create unity, strengthen school spirit and pride, and focus attention upon learning and away from distractions. The proposal relied on other school districts' findings that dress codes had enhanced school safety, improved the learning environment, promoted good behavior, reduced discipline problems, improved test scores, improved children's self-respect and self-esteem, bridged socio-economic differences between families, helped eliminate stereotypes and produced a cost savings for families. Subsequently, Highlands principal Mary Adams sent a letter to all Highlands students and their parents about the dress code proposal and set up a meeting to discuss it. Several Highlands students and their parents attended the meeting, including Amanda and Robert Blau. After the meeting, the Council formed a committee consisting of two council members, two teachers, four parents and four students (including Amanda Blau) to make a recommendation about the proposal. The dress code committee gathered feedback from teachers, parents and students, made modifications to the proposal and eventually proposed a dress code for the middle school, which the Council adopted on Aug. 21, 2001. The dress code prohibited certain items of clothing to be worn by the students to school. On Nov. 21, 2001, Robert Blau, a lawyer, filed an action against the Fort Thomas Public School District on his and Amanda's behalf in federal district court. The lawsuit sought to invalidate the dress code on its face, arguing that the dress code inhibited students from their ability to wear clothing that they liked, thereby violating the students’ constitutional rights. Blau's action also alleged a Kentucky Open Meetings Act violation. At the end of the trial, the district court ruled in favor of the school and its authorities. Thereafter, Blau appealed.
Did the dress code violate the students' constitutional rights, Ky. Const. § 2, and Kentucky Open Meetings Act?
The court pf appeals held that there were no constitutional violations. According to the court, Blau failed to meet his burden of showing that the First Amendment protected his daughter's conduct, which amounted to nothing more than a generalized and vague desire to express her school identity. Moreover, the court ruled that Blau's overbreadth challenge failed because he did not show that the dress code suppressed a substantial amount of protected conduct engaged in by others. As to the substantive due process claims, Blau failed to show that the dress code lacked a rational basis. Further, the court held that Blau did not have a fundamental right to exempt his child from the dress code. Because the authority provided under Ky. Rev. Stat. § 160.345(2)(c)(1) was reasonable and legitimate, the dress code did not violate Ky. Const. § 2. Finally, the court posited that the adoption of the dress code did not violate Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 61.835,61.805(3) under the Open Meetings Act.
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