ACLU Statement on Visalia Unified School District’s Proposed Changes to Dress Code

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ACLU of Northern CA

The ACLU of Northern California, Brianna Smith, a Visalia student activist, and ACT for Women and Girls based in Visalia, CA, are submitting public comments today regarding Visalia Unified School District’s proposed changes to the dress code banning “hate group” clothing being considered this evening by the School Board. ACLU Attorney Abre’ Conner, Brianna Smith, and students with ACT for Women and Girls will attend the hearing and give public comments in support of the points raised in the letter. The following can be attributed to the authors of the letter:

Although we applaud efforts to make the school district more safe and inclusive, we believe that the proposed policy is misguided.

Students at Visalia Unified have endured a long history of racial tension and division within the District. So while we appreciate the stated intent of the proposed policy and share the view that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, intolerance, and terror, simply banning “hate group” symbols doesn’t address the root causes of racism and bigotry on campus. Racial bias in the District isn’t confined to displays of Confederate symbols - students of color are often the target of racial slurs and are disproportionately harmed by discipline rates. As Brianna Smith explains in the letter, her experience in the District is that “Black students are called the n-word, Mexican students are told to ‘go back to Mexico,’ and white students regularly say, ‘white power’ to students of color.”

The proposed policy is also misguided because a ban on “hate group” symbols will expose the school to legal liability. There is no common understanding of what a “hate group” is, so students will not know what is prohibited or not. The vague policy will also give teachers and administrators even more discretion to apply the dress code in an arbitrary and subjective way, which will likely lead to selective enforcement on students of color. Instead of banning protected speech, we strongly encourage the District to directly combat racism and bias on campus by educating students on historical racism, investigate cases of harassment by students and teachers, support groups like the Black student Union, and hold small group sessions to discuss racial tension across the Visalia Unified School district."

The Visalia Unified School District’s Board of Education meeting will take place tonight, November 7, at the District Office, 5000 W. Cypress Avenue, Visalia, CA. Open session begins at 7:00 pm. 

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