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Lowry v. Watson Chapel School Dist.

October 20, 2006

CHRIS LOWRY, BY, THROUGH, AND WITH HIS MOTHER WENDY CROW; COLTON DOUGAN, BY, THROUGH, AND WITH HIS FATHER FRANK DOUGAN AND MOTHER LEIGH DOUGAN; AND MICHEAL JOSEPH, BY, THROUGH, AND WITH HIS MOTHER HEIDI JOSEPH PLAINTIFFS
v.
WATSON CHAPEL SCHOOL DISTRICT; CHARLES DANIEL KNIGHT, WATSON CHAPEL SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; AND WATSON CHAPEL SCHOOL BOARD PRESIDENT CHARLES DANIEL; VICE PRESIDENT SANDRA C. BOONE; SECRETARY DONNIE HARTSFIELD; AND MEMBERS DANNY HOLCOMB; JIM JOHNSON; MAXINE NELSON; AND JOHN TREGLOWN, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Leon Holmes United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

This action arises out of discipline imposed on students in the Watson Chapel School District who wore black armbands to protest the district's uniform policy. Plaintiffs Chris Lowry, Colton Dougan, and Micheal Joseph are students at the Watson Chapel School District. They, through their legal representatives Wendy Crow, Frank Dougan, Leigh Dougan, and Heidi Joseph, bring suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Watson Chapel School District, the district's superintendent Charles Daniel Knight in his individual and official capacities, and the district's school board members Charles Daniel, Sandra C. Boone, Donnie Hartsfield, Danny Holcomb, Jim Johnson, Maxine Nelson, and John Treglown in their individual capacities for violations of the student plaintiffs' rights under the First Amendment. The plaintiffs have filed a motion requesting a preliminary injunction. In their motion, they request that the Court enjoin the defendants from disciplining the student plaintiffs in any way for wearing the black armbands to school, order defendants to abate and expunge from all student records the discipline of the student plaintiffs for wearing black armbands, enjoin defendants from taking or enforcing the remainder of any disciplinary action against the student plaintiffs on account of their armband protest, and enjoin defendants from using the discipline to exclude the student plaintiffs from participation in school clubs, activities, and other events. The Court held a hearing on the motion on October 19, 2006. The Court now grants a preliminary injunction in this case.

I.

The Watson Chapel School District adopted a uniform policy in the summer of 2006 for grades 7 through 12. The policy required students to wear a school uniform "while in school, on school buses, and at designated school bus stops, unless directed otherwise by the school principal." The policy stated that "[f]ailure to wear the school uniform is a violation of the student discipline policy with all of the possible disciplinary consequences listed in the student handbook." The policy listed specific styles of shirts and pants to be worn by students at the district as well as the permissible colors for those articles of clothing. The policy also contained provisions for personal adornments:

14. No towel, scarf, bandana, do-rag, shirt, string, chain, jewelry, special button, insignia, label, marking, different-colored stitching, fringe, brad, stud, picture, logo, ribbon, embroidery, initials, monogram, special buckle, or any other form of adornment may be worn on or over any part of the uniform, except the school name, school logo, or school insignia.

15. Personal jewelry may be worn attached to or hanging on the body, but jewelry may not overlap any part of the uniform.

17. Any attempt to defeat the uniformity intended by this policy is prohibited.

The parties stipulated for purposes of the preliminary injunction hearing that the school district had legitimate educational reasons for adopting the written policy. Hence, the legitimacy of the uniform policy is not presently in dispute.

After the uniform policy was adopted, both Chris Lowry and Colton Dougan wore personal adornments to school that did not cover their uniforms. Lowry wore two necklaces that fit tightly around his neck. One consisted of seashells with a small skull in the middle, while the other was a hemp-like rope with a glass pendant in the middle. Dougan wore everyday to school a white, stretchy rubber bracelet that was about a half-inch wide containing the words "Live Pure: 1 Timothy 4:12." Neither Lowry nor Dougan received discipline for wearing those adornments. Other students have worn black rubber wristbands with the words "Watson Chapel" printed on them. One witness testified that the school sold those wristbands at a pep rally.

Wendy Crow, the mother of Lowry, made black, stretchy armbands approximately one-fourth to one-half inch wide and distributed them to parents and students for the students to wear in protest of the uniform policy. Those armbands were approximately the same width and circumference as the white wristband worn by Dougan and the black wristbands sold by the school. The protest was planned for October 6, 2006, and publicized in the local newspaper. On October 5, teachers at the Watson Chapel High School were instructed to send any students wearing black armbands to the auditorium.

On October 6, 2006, each of the plaintiff students wore the armbands to school, either on the wrist, the forearm, or the bicep. None of the plaintiff students wore the armbands on or over any part of his school uniforms. Each of the plaintiff students was disciplined for wearing the armbands. Lowry already had a previous school uniform violation and was given a one-day suspension for "2nd dress code violation." Dougan did not have any previous violations of the uniform policy and was not suspended but received a disciplinary slip. He is concerned that he is no longer eligible to be a member of the Beta Club, but that is in dispute. Joseph also did not have any violations of uniform policy but received a one-day suspension for a uniform policy violation.

II.

A district court has broad discretion to grant or deny a preliminary injunction. United Indus. Corp. v. Clorox Co.,140 F.3d 1175, 1179 (8th Cir. 1998). In making the determination in this case, the Court considers (1) the threat of irreparable harm to the student plaintiffs; (2) the balance between harm to the student plaintiffs and injury to other interested parties; (3) the likelihood that the student plaintiffs will succeed on the merits; and (4) the public's interest in the issuance of an injunction. Blue Moon Entm't, LLC v. City of Bates City, Mo.,441 F.3d 561, 564 (8th Cir. 2006) (citing Dataphase Sys., Inc. v. C L Sys., Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 113 (8th Cir. 1981) (en banc)). No factor, by itself, is dispositive. United Indus. Corp.,140 F.3d at 1179. "In essence, the inquiry is an equitable one, requiring that [the Court] consider 'whether the balance of equities so favors the ...


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