Central High School has backed off its dress code for the seniors' Baccalaureate service and graduation : Girls may now wear pants and jewelry.
An update posted on the PTSA newsletter by Principal Nancy Rousseau said the school made the change after "The ACLU contacted the school and reported that our required dress expectations were old fashioned and in violation of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution of the United States." The note said the pants rule changes "82 years of tradition."
Rita Sklar, executive director, says in an e-mail that the ACLU told Central the earlier no-pants rule violated the equal protection and Title IX guarantees against gender discrimination and that the no-jewelry rule -- which would have prohibited the wearing of crosses, for example -- violated free speech rights. Sklar noted that:
It should go without saying that whether or not to wear a dress/skirt or pants can be a significant form of expression for many girls and women: whether or not to don the traditionally feminine costume. Dresses and skirts are attractive in part because they convey a certain vulnerability. And pants can signify strength and independence. Boys can't look up your pants (in the same way, anyway!) and you can run a lot faster from an assailant in pants and flats than a skirt and heels. In any case, whether to wear pants or dresses and skirts is a decision that should be made by the student, not the school.
We're thinking other rules have changed over Central's 82 years, i.e.: Skirts don't have to touch the floor. African-Americans are part of the graduating class.
UPDATE: ACLU answers some questions raised by readers.
FROM HOLLY DICKSON, ACLU STAFF ATTORNEY:
A couple of questions were raised about the LRSD dress code for graduation and baccalaureate, and in case you wish to clarify for readers:
1. Yes, male students can wear jewelry, too.
2. The school may sponsor these baccalaureate ceremonies as long as they are secular. If they were non-secular, then the school could not regulate, endorse, advertise or support it.
This dress code was one of many unconstitutional issues we have addressed and resolved in Arkansas by bringing the violation to officials' attention and asking that they voluntarily change it to reflect the law. For our part, the change would have been treated as just another quiet, overdue, step forward for civil liberties until the notice in the PTSA newsletter credited our involvement.