Louisiana school district awaits ruling on school uniform policy

Thursday, August 12, 1999

School administrators in Bossier City, La., should soon find out whether their mandatory school uniform policy is constitutional. U.S. District Judge Donald Walter has set a summary judgment hearing for Sept. 8 to decide the legal issues in the case.

A group of 40 parents — who have children in area elementary, middle and high schools — sued the Bossier Parish School Board in federal court in May, contending the mandatory uniform policy violates free-expression rights under both the U.S. and Louisiana constitutions.

In Canady v. Bossier Parish School Board, the parents allege the policy, which does not allow them to opt their children out of the policy even for sincerely held religious reasons, is “illegal, improper and unconstitutional.”

According to the complaint, the policy violates “a First Amendment right to free speech, free and open expression and religious freedom because it denies freedom of expression in personal appearance and amounts to forced speech and appearance similar to totalitarian regimes.”

The parents filed a motion for summary judgment on Aug. 6, and the school board is scheduled to respond by the end of this week. The policy — enacted last school year — is scheduled to take effect later this month when school opens. School registration begins next week.

Robert Thompson, one of the parents' attorneys, says the policy “certainly violates First Amendment free-expression rights.”

“A key in this suit is that the policy contains no opt-out provision,” Thompson said. “There is not even an exemption for religious reasons.

“The school board officials' articulated justification for the policy is that it cuts down on problems in the schools,” he said. “But there really are no serious problems in Bossier City schools.

“We think we have a fighting chance to have this policy struck down,” he said.

Calls placed to attorneys representing the school board were not returned.