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September 22, 2014

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Appeals court sends school uniform lawsuit back to lower court for additional review

A suit by a Reno couple challenging a student uniform rule is returning to federal district court after an appellate court decision said the rule needs additional review.

A three judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Friday reversed the decision of federal Judge Robert Clive Jones who dismissed the action brought by Mary and Jon Frudden, whose two children attend Roy Gomm Elementary School.

The panel said Judge Jones should further study whether the insignia on the uniform violates the free speech rights of students.

The emblem on the school uniforms contains the motto "Tomorrow's Leaders." And uniform requirements exempt students who wear uniforms of a nationally recognized youth group such as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.

The appeal panel said the school policy compelled speech because it mandated the written motto on the uniform shirt. It also questioned the exemptions to the uniform policy.

The panel said these provisions "implicated First Amendment protections and were subject to strict scrutiny review." It said Judge Jones "did not examine whether there was sufficient evidence of the school's countervailing interests…."

The Fruddens also have an appeal in the Nevada Supreme Court claiming the policy review committee, which included parents at the school, violated the open meeting law when it adopted the uniform policy.

The panel said the appeals court six years ago held that a public school uniform policy in Clark County did not violate First Amendment rights. But this pending case involves the mandatory motto on the uniform and the exemption to wearing the uniform.

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