Oklahoma Students and Free Expression
- Oklahoma Statute Title 70-24-100.4 (effective Nov. 1, 2002)
C. The board of education of each school district in this state shall have the option of adopting a dress code for students enrolled in the school district. The board of education of a school district shall also have the option of adopting a dress code which includes school uniforms.
- Oklahoma Statute Title 70-6-114 (effective July 1, 1999)
Section C: "The board of education of each school district in this state may adopt a dress code to be incorporated as a part of the discipline policy of the school. Any rules concerning the dress code of a school adopted by the board of education shall have a reasonable connection with the education function entrusted to the board and shall not censure the political opinions of the students or unreasonably interfere with common clothing fads of students. However, nothing in this section shall prevent a school district from instituting a uniform dress code."
- Ind. Sch. Dist. No. 8 of Seiling v. Swanson, 553 P.2d 496 (Okla. 1976)
Four male students (one each from a high school and junior high and two from the elementary school) were threatened with suspension if they did not cut their hair to conform to the dress code., which required boys to wear their hair "above [the] eyebrows, collars and ears." The high school boys also were required to have their hair well-groomed at all times and to wear their sideburns no longer than the bottom of the earlobes.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the trial judge's order prohibiting the principals from suspending the students. The state Supreme Court held:
- The rights of students to control the length of hair did not raise substantive constitutional issues. However, the school board had acted beyond its statutory power to govern student behavior. The school board's rule-making authority was limited to "adopting rules that have a reasonable connection with the educational function entrusted to it by the public."
- Controlling the length of hair regulates an out-of-school activity more than an in-school activity because "hair cannot, in the nature of things, be short at school and yet the length preferred by a student and his parents at other times. Š A rule imposing such a significant invasion into the private lives of children and their parents requires a showing of greater justification and demonstrable need by the school board than one regulating purely inschool appearance, such as a rule about lengths of skirts."
- School officials had not demonstrated a reasonable connection between the hair-length rule and a proper function of the school. The court noted that no evidence showed a cause-and-effect relationship between short hair and better education. The length of hair did not affect the boys' ability to learn or disrupt the learning of other students.
- "Certainly, the school board is empowered to adopt and enforce those rules which are necessary to create and preserve a proper atmosphere for learning to take place, just as they have the authority to pass rules which insure the safety of students and preservation of school property. This rule does not rise to that standard and is essentially nothing more than a governmental declaration of fashion and style. We cannot sanction exclusion from the educational system for failure to conform to this dictate."
- McIntire v. Bethel School, Independent School Dist. No. 3, 804 F. Supp. 1415 (W.D. Okla. 1992)
The school superintendent suspended 26 high school students for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "The best of the night's adventures are reserved for people with nothing planned" printed vertically on the back. Unbeknownst to the student who designed the T-shirts, the slogan had been used in an advertisement for Bacardi Black Rum at least eight months earlier. The school district dress code prohibited the wearing of clothes advertising alcoholic beverages.
A federal district judge ruled that the superintendent had violated the students' First Amendment rights and ordered the superintendent not to suspend anyone for wearing the T-shirt or prohibit students from wearing the T-shirt. The judge held:
- The dress code prohibiting the wearing of clothing advertising alcoholic messages was permitted under the U.S. Constitution.
- However, school officials had not shown that the T-shirts could be perceived as advertising liquor or would result in "'substantial disruption or material interference' with the work or discipline of the school or that it would infringe upon the rights of other students."
- D. G. v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 11, Case No. 00-C-0614-E, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12197 (N.D. Okla. Aug. 21, 2000)
An 11th grade student at Owasso High School was told by her classroom teacher to move to another part of the classroom so she wouldn't continue talking to other students. The student thought she had been wrongly accused by the teacher and wrote a poem to express her frustration. The poem was found in a hallway and given to school administrators. Six days later, the assistant principal called the student to her office. The student confirmed that she had written the poem, and she was suspended for the rest of the school year and the first semester of the following school year. The school had a "zero tolerance" policy regarding threats by students. A federal district judge ordered the student reinstated.
- The judge used a two-part test to decide if the school could censor or punish the student's speech. (1) Was the speech a "true" or "genuine" threat. (2) Was the speech "disruptive of the normal operation of the school." The judged decided that "[n]either of those circumstances" existed in this case.
- To determine if the speech was a "true" threat, the judge said, courts decide "whether a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted by those to whom the maker communicates the statement as a serious expression of intent to harm or assault." Furthermore, "alleged threats should be considered in light of their entire factual context, including the surrounding events and the reaction of the listeners." The judge added: "In light of the violence prevalent in schools today, school officials are justified in taking very seriously student threats against faculty or other students."
- School officials admitted that the student had not intended to "convey a genuine threat." They also admitted that they had not perceived the poem as a genuine threat. The judge said, "It would be hard for [school officials] to argue otherwise [because] nothing was done about the poem until six days after it was found" and because the student was allowed to return to class after admitting she had written the poem.
- The judge said he was sympathetic to the difficulties faced by school officials in being responsible for the safety of faculty and students, particularly in light of the violent acts committed at some schools. Officials would have been justified under the law in suspending the student for a short time while they investigated the circumstances. However, once they had gathered the facts and the context of the poem became clear, there was no reason for believing that it constituted "any sort of threat."
- The poem had not substantially disrupted the operation of the school. Administration officials argued that if the student's act of disrespect went unpunished, it would be a substantial disruption to the school system in general by undermining the school's authority to discipline students. The judge said their argument "simply cannot hold water against the rights found in the First Amendment."
- The judge added: "It is impossible to have a 'no tolerance' policy against 'threats' if the threats involve speech. A student cannot be penalized for what they are thinking."
Killing Mrs. [Teacher]
I hate this class it is hell
Every day I can't wait for the bell,
I bitch and whine until it is time,
For me to get in the hall.
Back in the day,
I would sit and pray
to see if I may
Run away (from this hell)
Now as the days get longer
My yearning gets stronger
To kill the bitcher.
One day when I get out of jail
Cuz my friends paid my bail.
And people will ask why.
I'll say because the Bitch had to die!
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