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    School uniform requirement upheld

    ©Associated Press
    August 24, 2002

    LAKELAND -- There's nothing unconstitutional about requiring students to wear uniforms to public schools, a federal judge said in tossing out a lawsuit challenging Polk County's school dress code.

    The challenge was brought by more than 500 parents who opposed the district's 1999 order that students from kindergarten through eighth grade wear uniforms. It was among the nation's first mandatory uniform policies. Other districts across the country have since implemented similar codes.

    The plaintiffs contended that the policy restricted their and the students' rights of speech, expression and religion.

    One concern of the challengers was the infringement on First Amendment rights of children who want to wear clothes that make patriotic, political or religious statements, such as U.S. flag T-shirts or one asking, "What Would Jesus Do?"

    But last week U.S. District Judge James Whittemore in Tampa adopted an earlier federal magistrate's recommendation that sided with the school district.

    The School Board said it required students to wear uniforms to provide more discipline and get students more focused on academics.

    Students can choose to wear white or navy shirts with a collar. Some schools allow them to wear school T-shirts or shirts of specified colors. Bottoms can be black, navy, denim or khaki.

    Violations have resulted in out-of-school suspensions.

    "Two judges have now reviewed the uniform dress code, and they found it to be reasonable, rational and constitutional," said William Dufoe, a district lawyer. "Because of that, I think that (school) districts that are considering this type of policy would be encouraged."

    The ruling, however, may not free the district from another part of the lawsuit that deals with whether enforcement of the policy has been consistent. A trial has been set for May on that issue.

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