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Monday, October 12, 1998
School uniform policy challenged in court
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - The first Texas school district to require
uniforms for all students is back in court after a state judge
suspended the policy and prohibited disciplining students who
The temporary order against Eagle Pass school officials will
remain in effect until a Tuesday hearing. State District Judge
Rey Perez' order followed a lawsuit filed last week by parents
of 13 students denied waivers.
"We're not against the uniform policy, per se, and we're
not trying to change it," lawyer David Riojas, who represents
the parents, told the San Antonio Express-News. "We're just
asking that the waiver policy be applied evenly to those people
who request them."
Only a handful of the district's 10,200 students have received
waivers to wear street clothes to school instead of the khaki-and-white
uniforms, school officials say.
The policy, instituted last year, is credited for everything
from improved attendance and the end of gang attire to budget
relief for parents trying to keep up with the style curve.
"Basically, really, it's still very successful,"
said district spokeswoman Johnnie Lee Gonzalez. "There are
only 44 students out of uniform among 10,000."
But she said nearly 300 students were earlier wearing street
clothes without waivers.
The 1995 law that allows Texas school districts to require
school uniforms also states that the parent of a student who wants
a waiver must spell out in writing a "bona fide religious
or philosophic objection." It gives school boards sole authority
to grant or deny the waiver.
Parents may request a waiver for financial reasons, but the
law also requires the district to have funds available to provide
uniforms for hardship cases.
The parents' lawsuit contends that waivers were issued this
year in an "arbitrary and capricious manner" and that
the school board denied some waiver requests that were worded
identically to others that it approved.
"Most of those who received waivers have political ties
to school," Riojas said. "Among them are the children
of the county judge, two ex-school board members, a current school
board member and an employee of a school board member."
In addition to the state lawsuit challenging the way waivers
are issued, a federal lawsuit challenges the policy itself on
several grounds, including due process and free speech. The federal
suit was filed last month by a Texas Rural Legal Aid lawyer on
behalf of nine students.
The district responded that the students have no grounds to
"Because there is no constitutional liberty interest protecting
a student's choice of clothing at school, plaintiff's claims should
be dismissed," said district lawyer Oscar Trevino.
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