Jackson v. Dorrier

Decision Date06 April 1970
Docket NumberNo. 19351.,19351.
Citation424 F.2d 213
PartiesMichael JACKSON et al., Appellants, v. C. R. DORRIER et al., Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Larry Helm Spalding, Nashville, Tenn., for appellants, Barrett, Creswell & Mitchell, George E. Barrett, Nashville, Tenn., Charles Morgan, Jr., Reber F. Boult, Jr., Atlanta, Ga., on the brief, Melvin L. Wulf, Eleanor Holmes Norton, New York City, of counsel.

Robert E. Kendrick, Deputy Metropolitan Atty., Nashville, Tenn., for appellees.

Robert J. Conlon, on brief of parents concerned for all school children for amicus curiae.

Before PHILLIPS, Chief Judge, BROOKS, Circuit Judge,* and MACHROWICZ, District Judge.**


This case involves the timely subject of longhair worn by teenage male high school students.

The Metropolitan Board of Education of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, adopted the following regulation in 1961:

"Pupils shall observe modesty, appropriateness, and neatness in clothing and personal appearance. A student is not appropriately dressed if he is a disturbing influence in class or school because of his mode of dress. The principal may suspend a student who does not meet this requirement."

Under this regulation the students at Donelson High School were told, as to hair on male students, that hair in the front may not come below the eyebrows, ears must show clear of hair and hair in the back is to be tapered and not be long enough to turn up.

Two male students, Michael Jackson and Barry Steven Barnes, who were members of a combo band known as "The Purple Haze," permitted their hair to grow longer than prescribed by school officials. After conferences with the students and their parents the students were suspended by the principal and sent home for violation of the regulation. After additional conferences a hearing was conducted before the Board of Education. The Board sustained the action of the principal.

This suit was filed by the two students and by their parents, suing as individuals and as next friends of their minor sons. Jurisdiction is asserted under 28 U.S.C. § 1343.

District Judge Frank Gray, Jr., conducted an extensive hearing and denied injunctive relief. He made an affirmative finding of fact to the effect that the evidence unquestionably establishes that the regulation has a real and reasonable connection with the successful operation of the educational system, in that it is reasonably calculated to maintain school discipline. He held that the evidence failed to show that the students have been deprived of any constitutional rights.

We affirm.

The complaint charges that the student plaintiffs have been deprived of certain rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States; that the defendant school officials, having the authority and duty to promulgate plans, rules and regulations for the administration and operation of the public school system, wrongfully refused to enroll these two students at Donelson High School for the school year beginning September 1968 on the ground that their hair was too long, that they wore mustaches, and in the case of Barnes, a beard; and that the two students were informed that their appearance constituted "improper grooming" which amounted to "distracting attire." The complaint sought a declaration that the above quoted regulation is invalid. It prayed that defendants be compelled to readmit these two students to Donelson High School and that defendants be enjoined from conditioning attendance at school on the length of hair or the presence of a beard or mustache.

At the evidentiary hearing before the District Court it was established that the standards of neatness in personal appearance and dress set forth in the above-quoted regulation are communicated to students at Donelson High School each year by announcements over the school intercom and in assembly programs. They are discussed in home rooms and are the subject of conferences with individual students. Specific information is given to members of the student body as to the maximum length permitted for the hair of male students.

Jackson and Barnes began to run afoul of these rules during the 1967-68 school year. During that year they were members of "The Purple Haze" combo band and began to let their hair grow longer.

Barnes was absent from school 38 days and Jackson was absent 46 days and tardy 24 days during that school year. The principal wrote Jackson's parents in October 1967 concerning his absences and tardiness. He pointed out that on more than one occasion Jackson had been absent from school during the day and played with his combo band that night and that he had been averaging being away from school one day out of every four in addition to his tardiness. Proof was introduced that the grades of both boys dropped during the 1967-68 school year. Jackson ended the year with grades of D, C, F, D and B (Physical Education) and Barnes with grades of D, F, D, D and C (Art) and B (summer session 1967).

During the 1967-68 school year the principal informed Jackson and Barnes that their hair styles were not in conformity with the regulation. There was evidence that during the 1967-68 terms the long hair of these two students became a distracting influence in the school. Even though the two students failed to conform to the rules, after warning, no disciplinary action was taken against them during the 1967-68 school year and they were permitted to complete that academic year without changing their hair styles. The principal told Barnes that he would have to get his hair cut before returning to school in the fall. During the summer of 1968 both boys let their hair grow longer. When the new school term opened in September 1968 Jackson presented himself with hair over the lapel of his coat in the back and down to the tips of his earlobes on the sides, and with sideburns and a mustache. Barnes appeared with hair down to his shoulders and with a mustache, a beard and long sideburns.

After a conference the principal suspended the two students for violation of the regulation. He followed the suspension procedure prescribed by the Board of Education, filling out written suspension forms in quadruplicate. One copy was sent to the parents of the students, one copy to the director of school personnel, and one copy to the area superintendent and the fourth copy was kept in the school's files. The principal held conferences with parents of the two students. The case then was referred to the Pupil Personnel Department of the Metropolitan school system. The Director of Pupil Personnel Services held a conference with the parents and advised them of their right to appeal from the action of the principal to the Metropolitan Board of Education.

The parents appealed to the Board of Education. A hearing was held before the Board on September 19, 1968. At this hearing the parents made full statements of their position and also questioned the principal of Donelson High School in the presence of the Board.

The Board upheld the action of the principal in suspending the students for violation of its regulation.

The District Court made a finding of fact to the effect that the regulation here attacked, as interpreted and enforced by the principal of Donelson High School, has a real and reasonable connection with the successful operation of the educational system and tends to help maintain school discipline. He further found that the evidence failed to show that the students have been deprived of any constitutional rights. Findings of fact of the District Court will not be disturbed on appeal unless they are "clearly erroneous." Rule 52(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. We find substantial evidence in the record to support the findings of the District Judge.

There is evidence to support the conclusion that the wearing of excessively long hair by male students at Donelson High School disrupted classroom atmosphere and decorum, caused disturbances and distractions among other students and interfered with the educational process. Members of faculty of Donelson High School testified that the wearing of long hair by Jackson and Barnes was an obstructing and distracting influence to a wholesome academic environment. A teacher of history and social studies stated that two boys with long hair were a distracting influence in her class; that they were "constantly combing, flipping, looking in mirrors and rearranging their hair," attracting the attention of other students and interfering with classroom teaching; and that the train of thought of both the students and teachers was interrupted. An English teacher testified that she often asked a boy to put away his comb and refrain from combing his hair in class. She described long hair on male students as a disturbing and distracting influence on educational processes in her classes and other school activities at Donelson High School. A teacher of industrial arts testified that girls with long hair were required to wear hair nets as a safety precaution and that long hair on...

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