Stull v. School Board of Western Beaver Jr.-Sr. HS

Decision Date13 April 1972
Docket NumberNo. 71-1674.,71-1674.
Citation459 F.2d 339
PartiesJames Robert STULL, a minor, by his mother, Julie Stull Macleod, and his stepfather George Stuart MacLeod, et al., Appellants, v. SCHOOL BOARD OF the WESTERN BEAVER JUNIOR-SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL et al.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Hymen Diamond, Monroeville, Pa., for appellants.

Robert C. Reed, Wallover, Scalera, Reed & Steff, Beaver, Pa., for appellees.

Before VAN DUSEN and JAMES ROSEN, Circuit Judges and EDWARD R. BECKER, District Judge.


EDWARD R. BECKER, District Judge.


The School Board of the Western Beaver Junior-Senior High School (Board), like so many of its counterparts throughout the land, has promulgated a dress code which, inter alia, proscribes the wearing of hair covering the ears and below the collar line. James Robert Stull (James), a fifteen year old schoolboy, like so many of his peers, has adopted a hairstyle which offends the cited provisions of the code. As is shown by the record, including the testimony offered by plaintiffs and defendants in the District Court, James is neat and well-groomed, and has been neither the subject nor object of disruptive incidents at the school. However, his refusal to respond to directives to comply with the code has set James and the Board upon a collision course which led to James' suspension from school and this Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 1983) lawsuit, alleging a violation of James' federally protected constitutional rights and seeking injunctive relief.1 Without making findings of fact, the District Judge dismissed, on the grounds that the paramount interest in prescribing rules and regulations for the maintenance of order and discipline in the public school system lay with the state, and that the review of such rules and regulations was a function of the state rather than the federal courts.2 This appeal followed.

This is the second time this Court has been called upon to join the continually burgeoning roster of federal courts which have been called upon to enter, in Judge Coffin's rather apt metaphor, the "thicket"3 of cases involving the confrontation between youth and the school administrators over male hairstyles. The first occasion was the case of Gere v. Stanley, 453 F.2d 205 (1971), where a student challenged a regulation similar to that now under attack.4 In September of 1969, a dress code, including a vaguely worded hair regulation, was promulgated by the Principal of the Blue Ridge High School in New Milford, Pa. for the new school year. It was promulgated at the request of faculty members who had complained "that style changes were causing disruptions and distractions in the classroom." Gere grew shoulder length hair and a goatee in clear violation of the rule and was the source of disruption at the school. Students refused to sit near him in the cafeteria because his hair was very dirty and on several occasions groups of students approached the principal about the unhealthy condition of his hair. Gere was suspended in March of 1970 and thereafter filed suit seeking to enjoin the enforcement of the regulation; he returned to class pending disposition of the case.

During the summer of 1970 a new code was adopted by the faculty, administrative staff and student council which contained a slightly different hair regulation. When Gere returned to school, he was suspended because his hair was in violation of the new code. He did not return, but filed a second suit challenging the new hair regulations. The district court consolidated the actions and held that even though the length of one's hair was a protected right under the Fourteenth Amendment, in view of the interference with the educational process the regulation was reasonable and necessary.

On appeal, this Court found that the district court had jurisdiction (see discussion, supra n. 1). It then assumed arguendo that Gere had a constitutional right to choose his hairstyle5 and proceeded to determine the validity of the regulation in light of the test laid down by Mr. Chief Justice Hughes in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379, 57 S.Ct. 578, 81 L.Ed. 703 (1937), which requires the Court to assess the reasonableness of the regulation in relation to its subject, to reconcile the right sought to be protected with the legitimate interests of the community. The Court balanced the right asserted against the authority of the school board to "insure an atmosphere conducive to educational purposes", and found the regulation justified because, in light of the evidence of disruption of the educative process caused by Gere, the regulation was not an arbitrary exercise of the school board's power. However, the Court noted at footnote 11:

"We express no opinion regarding a case where a school board bans long hair without a background of disturbances of this nature. In such a case, the school board may or may not be able to justify a regulation applicable to its schools by presenting expert testimony that long hair would in some way be detrimental to the educational process in the school district in question.";
"Until such time as we are faced squarely with the underlying constitutional issue, i. e., whether a school board, without justifying the rule, may regulate the length of hair worn by male students, we feel that both logic and precedent require the application of the balancing test set forth in the text."

The record in this case requires that we squarely face the underlying constitutional issue. As of our latest count, we are the ninth of the circuit courts to do so.

In its opinion in Massie v. Henry, 455 F.2d 779, filed February 2, 1972, the Fourth Circuit joined the First, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits in holding regulations limiting the length of hair invalid, at least in the absence of persuasive reason and persuasive proof to support their promulgation and enforcement.6 The Fifth, Sixth, Ninth and Tenth Circuits, on the other hand, have refused to interfere with school regulations that prohibit long hairstyles, essentially on the basis that the right to select the length of one's hair is too insubstantial to constitute a right protected by the federal Constitution and therefore to warrant federal court consideration.7 On six occasions now the Supreme Court has denied certiorari,8 and on three of these strong dissents have been filed.9

We are not insensitive to the force of the proposition that it is more desirable that the matters here involved be left to the local authorities.10 On the other hand, there can be no doubt that the regulation under attack inhibits the student's personal liberty to fashion his own appearance and life style. The question does not present itself in a vacuum, but rather in the context of specific facts. Accordingly, we will first turn to an exegesis of the present record.


The hairstyle code which is in question in this case appears in the school's Student Handbook which is distributed to every student. It reads as follows:

"6. Because of health and safety factors, hair styles that either impair vision or contradict basic cleanliness are prohibited. Basic guide lines relative to hair styles are:
a. The ears shall not be covered.
b. Hair at the back of the head shall not fall below the top of the dress shirt collar.
c. Sideburns shall not extend below the bottom of the ear.
d. The top of the eyebrow shall be the lower limit for the forehead."

We have examined James' photograph. He is a clean-cut youngster, and his hair is neatly cut and combed. The record establishes that he washes and combs out his hair about twice a week. His hair, however, does extend below the collar line and over his ears. Accordingly, James is in violation of the code which was drafted in the spring and summer of 1970 by a committee composed of the principal, members of the faculty and student representatives, and was adopted by the Board prior to the commencement of the school year.

At the beginning of the school term, James was requested to cut his hair to conform to the code. With the consent of his parents, he refused, was then suspended but readmitted two days later after compliance. James asserts that at various times thereafter he was "harassed" by the principal, Michael Arbutina, and various teachers because of his long hair. This suit was then filed on October 20, 1970.

In late January 1971, James was again suspended on account of his hair length, but was readmitted after he cut his hair. He let his hair grow again, and on April 5, 1971, all parents of students whose hair was in violation of the school code were notified by letter from the principal that if their children's hair did not comply with the hair code, they would not be admitted to class. James refused to comply and was suspended on April 10, 1971 and did not return to school for the remainder of the school year.11

At the District Court's final hearing, the Board offered testimony to justify the hair code. The then principal, Arbutina, testified that as a result of his experience in education, he felt that such regulations were "helpful to maintain a proper academic atmosphere." He conceded, however, that there were no disciplinary problems at Western Beaver caused by students with long hair. In fact, there is no evidence at all in the record that James' hair ever caused any disturbances or disruptions in the educational process at Western Beaver, or that James was subject to abuse or violence or was himself a disciplinary problem. Neither were there any complaints about his cleanliness or tidiness. It was conceded at the argument that his appearance was scrubbed and neat and pleasant indeed. Moreover, and most significant in light of the Gere opinion, there is no evidence in the record of any problems which preceded and thereby precipitated the adoption of the code.

Joseph Kadalik, Vice-President of the Board, testified that the hair code was adopted because it...

To continue reading

Request your trial
26 cases
  • Fagan v. National Cash Register Company
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • June 29, 1973
    ...937, 90 S.Ct. 1836, 26 L.Ed.2d 268 (1970), followed in Crews v. Cloncs (7 Cir.1970), 432 F.2d 1259; Stull v. School Board of Western Beaver Jr.-Sr. High School (3 Cir.1972), 459 F.2d 339, with its recognition of the conflicts in various courts. 6 See, e.g., Freeman v. Flake (10 Cir.1971), 4......
  • Baird v. Bellotti
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
    • April 28, 1975
    ...60 Va.L.Rev. 305, 316-19. Cf. In re Winship, 1970, 397 U.S. 358, 365, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368; Stull v. School Board of Western Jr.-Sr. High School, 3 Cir., 1972, 459 F.2d 339, 345. We see no room for dispute. Furthermore, in the case at hand that right cannot be subordinated to the s......
  • Williams v. City of Dallas
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas
    • March 28, 1990
    ... ... and the powers of the Police Review Board, two Dallas police officers were shot and killed ... 402 (N.D.Tex.1960). In this school desegregation case, the judge—five years after ... ...
  • Poe v. Werner
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • December 2, 1974
    ...showing the government must make in order to override the protected constitutional interest.3 In Stull v. School Board of Western Beaver Junior-Senior High School, 3 Cir. 1972, 459 F.2d 339, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the governance of the length and style of one's......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Chief Judge Edward R. Becker: a truly remarkable judge.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 149 No. 5, May 2001
    • May 1, 2001
    ...91 F.3d 451 (3d Cir. 1996) (included under Fifth Amendment)] NINTH AMENDMENT [Stull v. Sch. Bd. of W. Beaver Junior-Senior High Sch., 459 F.2d 339 (3d Cir. 1972) (included under Fourteenth ELEVENTH AMENDMENT United States v. Union Gas Co., 832 F.2d 1343 (3d Cir. 1987) Vecchione v. Wohlgemut......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT