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Laine v. Dittman

JUNE 22, 1970.

CHARLES LAINE, A MINOR, AND SULO M. LAINE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS FATHER AND NEXT FRIEND, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

ALBERT L. DITTMAN, ARTHUR BLECKY, WARREN POLLY, AND WILLIAM E. BROOK, ROBERT DENMAN, AUGUST C. COSTOFF, DR. ALBERT BUCAR, ROBERT LINDBLAD, MRS. BETTE MEYER, AND WILLIAM E. PETTY, EACH INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF ANTIOCH COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL, DISTRICT NO. 117, COUNTY OF LAKE AND STATE OF ILLINOIS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County, Nineteenth Judicial Circuit; the Hon. CLARENCE E. PARTEE, Judge, presiding. Reversed and remanded with directions.

MR. JUSTICE ABRAHAMSON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.

On September 4, 1969, the first day of school of the new term, Charles Laine, a 17-year-old junior at Antioch Community High School, was advised by Arthur Blecky, the Dean of Boys, not to return to school until his hair was cut and his sideburns shaved. On September 5, 1969, Sulo M. Laine, the father of Charles, was notified by letter from Albert Dittman, Superintendent of the school, that Charles was suspended from school for his failure to comply with a "Grooming Code" and that unless he returned to school by September 9 "properly groomed" a special meeting of the Board of Education would consider his expulsion. On September 8, Charles and Sulo Laine filed a verified complaint in the Circuit Court of Lake County against the members of the board and certain administrative personnel of the school that charged, among other things, that the Grooming Code, as far as it pertained to the length and style of the boy's hair, violated the constitutions of the United States and the State of Illinois.

The trial court entered a temporary injunction without notice on that date restraining the board from proceeding with a special meeting to consider the expulsion of Charles and to refrain from "not admitting" him to school. A full hearing was held on September 18, after which the court dissolved the temporary injunction and refused to issue a permanent injunction. An appeal was immediately taken from that order and we ordered that the temporary injunction be kept in full force and effect during the pendency of the appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 305. (Ill Rev Stats 1967, c 110A.)

The "Parent and Student Handbook" of Antioch Community High School, adopted in July of 1969, as it pertains to boys and to grooming and hair provides:

"6. Hair must be neat and well-groomed. Extreme or bizarre hair styles not acceptable.

"7. Clean shaven."

A memorandum opinion filed by the trial judge states that as of September 18 Charles had long hair combed back shoulder length and that the entire sides of his face were covered with hair.

Charles Laine testified that he started classes on September 4 that proceeded without incident until the 5th period, when he was called from a study hall and sent home by the dean of boys because he was not properly groomed. He returned to school on September 9, pursuant to the injunction, and attended 42 classes in the next 7 days until the date of the hearing. On cross-examination, Charles admitted that various unkind remarks were made to him by other students and that he was the object of whistles in the halls of the school. On September 10 he requested that he be assigned somewhere other than the cafeteria for lunch since he heard rumors of possible harassment. Charles testified that in his opinion present society is "very sick" and that his hair style is meant to set him apart from other people.

Arthur Blecky testified that as dean of boys he was charged with the maintenance of discipline within the school. He had been informed by teachers that on two occasions petitions were distributed in class by students against the hair style worn by Charles and that approximately 20 students personally complained to him. He also observed that other students made derogatory remarks to Charles and whistled at him when he passed in the hall but admitted that this did not disturb classwork since it occurred between classes. In his opinion, there was an "air of tension in the student body," a feeling that he was "on a safety valve" as a result of Charles' appearance that had affected the "climate of the school."

Arthur Dittman testified that as Superintendent he and certain other personnel, including Mr. Blecky, determined what hair style was "bizarre" and that in his opinion a bizarre hair style was anything that was "not normally worn by the boys" at Antioch. He testified that "an explosive situation" existed at the school as a result of Charles' hair and that he diligently supervised the situation to avoid a confrontation. Teachers were assigned to patrol the halls and although no explosion had yet occurred, the tension was becoming "tremendously worse."

Norman Hahn, a history teacher, also observed students whistle at Charles between classes and on one occasion they attempted to present him with a dress. It was in his classroom that a petition was circulated by students. Hahn stated that Charles ignored the remarks, whistles and proffered gift and, in fact, took no action in response to his fellow, displeased students.

The trial judge indicated in his memorandum opinion that it was not necessary to consider the constitutional aspects of the Grooming Code to make a determination since the school officials would be within the proper exercise of their powers to suspend or expel Charles under the circumstances with or without such a Code. Although no authority is cited for this conclusion, we presume it is based on those powers conferred upon school boards by the School Code to adopt all necessary rules, to suspend and/or expel students and to maintain discipline. (Ill Rev Stats 1967, c 122, §§ 10-20.5, 10-22.6, and 24-24.)

It is well known, however, that a school board is not immune from the application of constitutional limitations and its actions are subject to the same scrutiny as any other governmental body. The United States Supreme Court in the 1943 case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (319 U.S. 624, 637, 638) said in regard to local school boards:

"Such Boards are numerous and their territorial jurisdiction often small. But small and local authority may feel less sense of responsibility to the Constitution and agencies of publicity may be less vigilant in calling it to account. . . . There are village tyrants as well as village Hampdens, ...


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