Karr v. Schmidt, EP-70-CA-229.

Decision Date19 November 1970
Docket NumberNo. EP-70-CA-229.,EP-70-CA-229.
Citation320 F. Supp. 728
PartiesChesley KARR, a minor, Individually, and John R. Karr, Individually and as next friend and Guardian ad Litem, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, v. Clifford SCHMIDT, Principal of Coronado High School; H. E. Charles, Superintendent; Harold Wiggs, Mrs. William C. Collins, Elman A. Chapa, Javier Montez, and Dr. R. A. D. Morton, Jr., the Board of Trustees for the El Paso Independent School District, Individually and in their respective official capacities.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Texas

Ruth Kern and Clarence Moyers, El Paso, Tex., for plaintiffs.

Allen R. Grambling, Morris A. Galatzan, Harold Sims, El Paso, Tex., for defendants.


SUTTLE, District Judge.

On August 12, 1970, plaintiff Chesley Karr, aged 16, was told he could not register as a Junior Student in Coronado High School until he conformed to that portion of the student "dress code" governing length of hair for boys. Principal Clifford Schmidt's action was approved by the Board of Trustees for the El Paso Independent School District after full hearing. Chesley Karr and his father John Karr, individually and as next friend and guardian ad litem, then brought this action on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated against the Superintendent, Board of Trustees, and Principal Schmidt alleging that the regulation and its enforcement violates the plaintiffs' rights under the First, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs seek an injunction and damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and declaratory relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 et seq., alleging jurisdiction based upon 28 U.S.C. § 1343.

Defendants preliminarily contend that (1) the complaint fails to allege a cause of action over which this Court has jurisdiction, (2) this Court lacks jurisdiction of the alleged cause of action because of plaintiffs' failure to exhaust their State administrative and judicial remedies, (3) this single-judge court lacks jurisdiction over the constitutional claims, since 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281 et seq. requires the convening of a three-judge federal district court, and (4) the case is not a proper class action. The Court finds that the Complaint alleges a non-frivolous cause of action raising substantial federal questions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 over which this Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343. Defendants are proper parties, both in their official and individual capacities.1

The Court further holds that failure to exhaust available state judicial remedies is no jurisdictional bar to the instant action.2 Nor is failure to exhaust available state administrative remedies. Federal courts require only "such prior reference to local institutional authority as may be necessary to assure that the action complained of is final within the institution in the sense that it is ripe for adjudication."3 This has clearly been fulfilled in this case.

While the Complaint sought a declaration that §§ 21.301 and 23.26, Texas Education Code, V.T.C.A., are unconstitutional, it nowhere sought an injunction "restraining the action of any officer of the State in the enforcement or execution of such statutes."4 Even this claim was abandoned on oral argument, leaving only the attack on a portion of a school board policy which, having only local effect, may be determined by a single district judge rather than a three-judge federal court.5

Since no specific evidence was offered as to the amount of money damages plaintiffs have suffered, that portion of the Complaint and its prayer must be dismissed. This being the case, the Court questions whether a formal ruling on the propriety of entertaining this suit as a class action is necessary, since any grant or denial of the declaratory and injunctive relief sought by the named plaintiffs would necessarily satisfy the alleged class. Since the point has been raised, briefed and argued, however, the Court holds that, in light of evidence as to how many students the "hair-cut" provision of the dress code has and potentially may affect, the requirements of Rule 23(a) and (b) (2), F.R.Civ.P., have been met, and that the named plaintiffs are entitled to bring this suit as a class action.6

Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is therefore denied, and it is so ordered. To the extent that the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Fourteenth Defenses are directed to the same issues, they are without merit.

Before examining the circumstances of this particular case, a brief, if perhaps over-simplified summary of "hair law" might be helpful. Following a course first charted in this circuit, most courts have either held or assumed that one's choice of hair style is constitutionally protected and that the State may invade this interest only upon a showing of compelling reason, i. e., that the forbidden style, if allowed, would be a material and substantial interference to the educational system.7 Consequently, hair-cut codes have been upheld where the school has objectively demonstrated that long hair resulted in disruptions of the educational process such as harassment, use of obscene or derogatory language, fights, health or safety hazards, obscene appearance or distraction of other students.8 Conversely, if the school authorities were unable to support factually their rule, offering speculation only, the rule is held unreasonable and hence in violation of the equal protection and/or due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.9 In short, "The touchstone for sustaining such regulations is the demonstration that they are necessary to alleviate interference with the educational process."10

The policy of the Board of Trustees of the El Paso Independent School District regarding student dress was first codified in March, 1969.11 The first specific reference to hair was added in September, 1967,12 and remained substantially unchanged through amendments of the Board's policy 5370 in September, 1968,13 and May, 1969.14 Prompted by a request of the Superintendent's Student Advisory Committee in May, 1970, that the dress code be suspended for the remainder of the school year in order to gain empirical evidence of the necessity therefor, the Board of Trustees set up an Ad Hoc Committee on Student Grooming and Dress, composed of a student, parent, and administrator from each senior high school, to study the matter and recommend to the Board (1) whether a dress code is needed, and if so, (2) what the dress code should be for El Paso public schools.15 After full discussion, the Board adopted the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee, with minor changes, July 24, 1970. As finally applied to students, the code reads, in its relevant parts, as follows:

"The matter of student grooming is of utmost concern to parents who realize the importance of seeing that children are properly attired when they leave for school each day. Also, student behavior is influenced by proper dress and grooming. Consequently, student grooming is the proper concern of school administrators and teachers.
"In order to help ensure proper acceptable behavior on the part of the students, it becomes necessary to establish certain guidelines to aid parents and students in selecting the proper attire for the school year. Schools also recognize that parents are basically responsible for their children's dress and general appearance. The role of the school is one of guidance for pupils in an effort for total education and the development of proper attitudes.
"Student dress will be considered acceptable if it does not violate any of the three following principles:
1. Clothing worn is not to be suggestive or indecent.
2. Clothing and general appearance is not to be of the type that would cause a disturbance or interfere with the instructional program.
3. Clothing and general appearance is to be such as not to constitute a health or safety hazard.
Guidelines for dress and grooming are:
* * * * * *
1. Hair may be blocked, but is not to hang over the ears or the top of the collar of a standard dress shirt and must not obstruct vision. No artificial means to conceal the length of the hair is to be permitted; i. e., ponytails, buns, wigs, combs, or straps.
* * * * * *
"Cleanliness of body and clothing is expected of all students at all times.
"No child shall be admitted to school or shall be allowed to continue in school who fails to conform to the proper standards of dress.
"Failure to comply with the rules of dress shall be grounds for suspension."16

At the trial, plaintiff Chesley Karr's hair, while clean, neat, and well-groomed, was over the collar of his dress shirt in back and covered most of his ears. This is the only reason he was and is not permitted to enroll in Coronado High School17 and delimits the only issue in the case.

Defendants' witnesses, including three students who served on the Ad Hoc Committee, a football coach, a science teacher, two typing teachers, two Student Activities Directors, three Assistant Principals, four Principals, and the Superintendent, offered their opinions that the regulation limiting the length of male students' hair is necessary to prevent interference with the educational process. Hair longer than the code permits is said to bear a reasonable relationship to distractions in and disruptions of classes, health and safety of students, and discipline.

The overwhelming preponderance of the relevant, credible evidence in the case indicates, however, that the presence and enforcement of the hair-cut rule causes far more disruption of the classroom instructional process than the hair it seeks to prohibit. To the extent that the alleged disruptions and distraction of others were not caused by the rule itself, long hair creates no more interference with the educational process than any of the myriad of personal idiosyncracies of both male and female students which...

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12 cases
  • Fagan v. National Cash Register Company
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • June 29, 1973
    ...have been recognized as requiring or even as justifying the interposition of federal courts. After the District Court in Karr v. Schmidt, 320 F.Supp. 728 (W.D.Tex. 1970), ruled that the local standard hair length regulation violated the due process and equal protection clauses, its judgment......
  • Karr v. Schmidt
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • April 28, 1972
    ...proved futile, Karr filed suit in federal court seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. After a four-day trial, the district court, 320 F.Supp. 728, concluded that the denial of a free public education to Karr on the basis of this regulation violated the due process and equal protection ......
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    • November 29, 1971
    ...322 F.Supp. 326; Turley v. Adel Community School District, D.C., 322 F.Supp. 402; Watson v. Thompson, D.C., 321 F.Supp. 394; Karr v. Schmidt, D.C., 320 F.Supp. 728, motion to vacate stay of injunction denied, 401 U.S. 930, 91 S.Ct. 914, 28 L.Ed.2d 211; Gere v. Stanley, D.C., 320 F.Supp. 852......
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    ...constitutional protection for such personal choices as the style of one's hair, whether to wear a beard or mustache. Karr v. Schmidt (D.C.1970), 320 F.Supp. 728. The right to privacy and basic liberty has been given additional concreteness, most relevant here, in Griswold v. Connecticut (19......
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