Wednesday, March 03, 2021

School's Refusal To Allow Modified Graduation Cap Upheld

In Waln v. Dysart School District, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38345 (D AZ, Feb. 28, 2021), an Arizona federal district court rejected free exercise, free speech and equal protection challenges to a school district's refusal to allow a graduating senior to wear a decorated cap at graduation ceremonies.  The student was a member of the Sioux tribe and for cultural and religious reasons wanted to wear a beaded cap adorned with an eagle feather. The school district allowed Native American students to wear in their hair, or as a necklace or jewelry, but did not permit altered commencement caps. The court said in part:

[A]dopting an appearance of neutrality with regard to religion or cultural viewpoints, and the avoidance of controversy, have been deemed reasonable bases for subject-matter limitations, such as limitations on religious expression, on a student's free speech rights.... In this matter, all expressive speech, including but not limited to religious speech, was prohibited by the dress code blanketly prohibiting the augmentation of graduation caps, and the restriction was reasonable and related to the purpose of the forum. And, most notably, the prohibition of any adornment of any kind on a student's graduation cap during the commencement ceremonies was content-neutral.