ACLU Tells LB School District It Considers Millikan High Mandatory Uniform Policy For Fall '03 Illegal Without "Opt Out" Or Exemption Procedure; Calls Transfers "A Form of Reprisal"
Responding For LBReport.com, LBUSD Provides What It Calls Some Key Facts In The Matter; We Post Them
Letter from ACLU Foundation of So. Cal
(January 31, 2003) -- The ACLU Foundation to Southern California has told the LB Unified District it considers a Millikan High School mandatory uniform policy, adopted by the School Board for implementation in fall '03, "in clear violation of state law" based on the group's understanding that the policy does not include an "opt out" provision.
In a January 28 letter to LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser, ACLU Foundation of So. Cal. Associate Executive Director Elizabeth Schroeder indicated her group has learned that the school district "intends to transfer Millikan High School students whose parents do not 'opt out' to a school that has no uniform requirement." It called transfers "a form of reprisal" that would violate state law.
CA Education Code § 35183 (e) provides in pertinent part that a school board "shall provide a method whereby parents may choose not to have their children comply with an adopted school uniform policy requires districts to include an "opt out" or exemption procedure for those parents who choose that their children not wear a uniform."
Subsection (f) provides that the policy "shall include a provision that no pupil shall be penalized academically or otherwise discriminated against nor denied attendance to school if the pupil's parents chose not to have the pupil comply with the school uniform policy."
In response to an inquiry from LBReport.com seeking LBUSD reaction, LBUSD has emailed, and we have posted verbatim below, what it calls some key facts in the matter.
ACLU's L.A. based affiliate says it believes LBUSD "intends to transfer Millikan High School students whose parents do not 'opt out' to a school that has no uniform requirement." The letter declares, "Transfers are a form of reprisal and would violate state law."
It adds, "Even if a school does not take action against students who 'opt out,' the school would still [sic] in violation of state law if the notice sent to parents mentions the possibility of a school transfer."
The ACLU letter continues: "Any policy that contains restrictions on a parent's statutory right to choose that their child 'opt out' of wearing a uniform, or which allows reprisals against students who 'opt out,' is illegal."
It advises Superintendent Steinhauser to "take immediate action to change the mandatory uniform policy proposed for Millikan" and said notices about the uniform policy "must inform parents of the 'opt out' provision and make clear that no reprisals will be taken against students whose parents follow the 'opt out' procedures. No mention can be made of school transfers."
The ACLU letter requests a response by February 7 and adds that "[f]ailure to respond will be interpreted as a refusal to change the illegal language in the uniform notices."
LBUSD response citing its key facts
In response to our inquiry, LBUSD's Office of Communication and Community Relations emailed LBReport.com what it calls some key facts in the matter. We post them verbatim below.
1. Our school uniforms for Millikan will comply with both the spirit and the letter of the law.
2. No student will be denied attendance to school.
3. No Millikan student will be transferred out.
4. All parents of eighth graders, wherever they may live throughout the district, may apply for admission for their son or daughter to Millikan for the fall semester.
5. Millikan is a school of choice with priority given to students living in the Millikan area.
6. Parents who do not choose the Millikan program can choose from up to 11 other high school options.
7. Millikan can enroll a maximum of 980 ninth graders and expects to have a capacity enrollment plus a waiting list for admission.
8. Economically disadvantaged students will receive school uniform assistance from the Assistance League of Long Beach.
9. Parents and school staff at Millikan requested school uniforms and support the Board of Education's decision this month to approve uniforms for Millikan.
10. Millikan is the second high school in Long Beach to offer parents the opportunity to choose such a program. Wilson took a similar step in 1997 which has resulted in major school improvements and attracted hundreds of private and parochial school students.
LBUSD's Board of Education voted unanimously in late January to implement mandatory school uniforms at Millikan High, phased in one year at a time starting with this fall's freshman class.
In 1994, LBUSD became the first large school district in the nation to require uniforms districtwide in kindergarten through eighth grade; in 1997, ELB's Wilson High School became the first district high school to implement uniforms.
In a written release announcing the Board's vote to implement uniforms at ELB's Millikan High. LBUSD said that since implementing mandatory uniforms at Wilson High, the school "has improved attendance and achievement and reduced suspensions. Many parents have placed their children on waiting lists to enroll. Hundreds of former private and parochial school students have enrolled at Wilson. Other high schools have noticed."
The ACLU's L.A. office has tangled with LBUSD before over the issue of school uniforms. Its Jan. 28 letter to Superintendent Steinhauser references previous litigation in which the ACLU Foundation of So. Cal and LB Legal Services sued LBUSD over what the ACLU letter called "its restrictive and unworkable 'opt out' procedures, and over the District's failure to notify parents adequately that the 'opt out' procedure was available." The lawsuit "settled successfully in February, 1996," the ACLU letter says.
LBUSD says Millikan students will wear khaki/tan or Navy blue pants, shorts, jumpers or skirts and white or navy blue collared shirts or turtlenecks. "The idea was proposed by parents who wanted students to look more professional," an LBUSD release says, and indicates that in addition to wearing uniforms, incoming freshmen "will participate in smaller learning communities which are expected to contribute to student performance, school climate and parent satisfaction. Teachers will work in teams serving these smaller groups of students, providing a strong system of support and sense of belonging for students. Uniforms have been most successful when they are part of a larger plan to raise standards not only in dress, but also in behavior and achievement."
"Mandatory school uniforms work," said Superintendent Chris Steinhauser, quoted in the release. "They are an effective component of an effective instructional program. They produce safer schools. They reduce distractions. They provide an academic environment which supports the serious business of learning," he added.
Developing. Further reaction is pending as we post. Check back with LBReport.com