Lawyers Threaten Suit Over LISD Dress Code

Hank Murphy. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. October 10, 1990

A trio of Lubbock lawyers fired a public warning shot at the Lubbock school district Tuesday, threatening to wrap the district in litigation if trustees don’t loosen the tough new dress code.

At a press conference, Lubbock lawyers J. Edwin Price, Steve McIntyre and Texas Tech University law professor Rod Schoen gave the Lubbock Independent School District (LISD) until Oct. 17 to make changes in its dress code, specifically its ban on male earrings and on longer-than-shoulder-length hair.

Superintendent Mike Moses said the school is willing to discuss the issue, but said any decision to modify the code rests with the board of trustees.

Price argued that the LISD dress code violates the Texas Constitution by inflicting sex-based discrimination on boys in choice of hair style and earrings.

The lawyers, Price said, have been retained by a pool of parents and students-as many as 25- “for breaches of constitutional rights” of students.

Although the attorneys’ primary focus is on sex discrimination, they also intend to probe “freedom of speech issues and intervention by the district in religious matters.” Price said.

Despite threatening a lawsuit, Price said the lawyers “are inviting the school district to join with us in a dialogue to try to resolve these problems short of a lawsuit.”

Said Moses, “ I wouldn’t have a problem with talking with anyone about the dress code and the concerns voiced about it. We’re open to any dialogue and any discussions. Will that occur before Oct. 17? I don’t know what will happen after that.”

If there is not meaningful progress on the issue by then, Price warned, “We have no other recourse but to file a lawsuit. We have students who are not in school, who are not being educated because of the dress code. And we feel that that’s an unconstitutional limitation on their right to an education.”

Schoen, a member of the Lubbock Civil Liberties Union (LSLU) board of directors, said Price and McIntyre are working on this case as LCLU cooperating attorneys, although neither one belongs to the organization. The LCLU is the local arm of the American Civil Liberties Union.

On religious concerns, Price said the attorneys know of students who have been prohibited from wearing the Star of David, a six-pointed star that matches a hexagram, labeled a satanic sign in reference flyers distributed by LISD.

Schoen said, “I think all that suggests the dangers that are implicit in trying to attach a forbidden or dangerous connotation to a symbol that may have more than one meaning.”

Many of the symbols on the LISD list are not in any way occult symbols, Schoen said, noting that the list’s five-pointed pentagram dominates the Texas flag.

Moses said the leaflets-which also grouped rock bands into positive and negative categories-never were intended to serve as an exhaustive list for acceptable and non-acceptable music and symbols.

Since the lists were distributed, the LISD has said the information was meant to be a resource and is not part of board policy.

Furthermore, the school district has stated that a symbol in and of itself does not necessarily indicate cult or satanic worship, Moses said.

Moses said he did not know of any particular cases where students had been told to remove religious symbols, adding, “It’s not our intent to restrict freedom of religion or expression” or prohibit inoffensive dress and symbols.

A student will be required to remove a symbol only when it’s unmistakably clear that the symbol is being used out of religious context. “Without that proof, young people should not be disturbed,” he said.