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Crews v. Cloncs

August 10, 1970


Swygert, Chief Judge, Fairchild and Cummings, Circuit Judges.

Author: Swygert

SWYGERT, Chief Judge.

Defendant Eugene Cloncs, principal, and the other named defendants, all officials of the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, Marion County, Indiana, refused to readmit plaintiff, Tyler Crews, to North Central High School for the 1969-1970 term on the sole ground that the length of his hair failed to conform to unpublished school rules and regulations. Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 2201 seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction requiring defendants to permit him to attend regular classes at North Central. After a trial before the court, the district judge denied relief holding that defendants had presented facts sufficient to satisfy the "substantial burden of justification" required for interference with plaintiff's rights.*fn1 Shortly thereafter we handed down our decision in Breen v. Kahl, 419 F.2d 1034 (7th Cir. 1969). On January 12, 1970 on the motion of plaintiff and in light of our decision in Breen we ordered defendants to readmit Crews to North Central pending disposition of this appeal. For the reasons set forth below we reverse the decision of the district court.

Tyler Crews is a seventeen-year-old high school student. In keeping with the prevailing style among many of his generation, he chooses to wear his hair longer than is generally true of his elders. His reasons for this decision were stated in the district court as follows:

I think it looks better for one reason, and for another reason, I don't associate with a group, but I try to disassociate with general society, you know, people that look normal, because I am not entirely satisfied with things that are happening like this.

Though a similar style prevailed among their own grandfathers, North Central school officials look upon Crews' long hair with great distaste and perceive it as a genuine threat to their own authority and to quality education.

Crews' difficulties with school authorities began in September 1967. At that time, although North Central had published no written rules governing the length of high school student's hair,*fn2 vice principal Billy Walker demanded that Crews get a haircut. Walker based his action upon the school requirement that a student's hair must be "above the collar, above the ears and out of the eyes." Crews acquiesced and Walker apparently was satisfied. Acceptance of Crews' hair length, however, was not universal. In accordance with another unpublished rule delegating absolute authority to individual teachers to determine whether a student's appearance is suitable, Crews' gym teacher barred him from physical education classes for the entire 1967-68 school year. Crews also was excluded from his biology class for part of the school year.

At the end of the 1967-68 school year Cloncs informed Crews that he would not be readmitted to North Central in the fall unless he agreed to periodic haircuts. Rather than comply with this directive, plaintiff enrolled in night classes at the Broad Ripple High School during the 1968-69 school term.

Late in the spring of 1969 Crews again requested admission to North Central. At the regular school board meeting of the Metropolitan School District on June 16, 1969 a hearing was held concerning the Crews case. Plaintiff did not attend, but was represented at the meeting by his father, a lawyer, and a psychiatrist with whom plaintiff had been consulting. An additional meeting of the board was held on June 19 at which time the board adopted the following resolution:

The history and record of Tyler Crews was presented to the Board of Education by Mr. Cloncs, Principal of North Central High School and Dean Evans, Assistant Superintendent.

After a thorough discussion of the matter, upon motion duly made, seconded and unanimously carried, the following resolution was adopted:

'BE IT RESOLVED, That the request for admission to North Central High School of Tyler Crews be denied, unless the said Tyler Crews conforms to the reasonable rules and regulations as to the length of his hair, for the best interests of the discipline, government and management of North Central High School.'

Plaintiff's action in the district court was commenced shortly thereafter.

Plaintiff raises several important constitutional issues including: (1) whether our recent decision in Soglin v. Kauffman, 418 F.2d 163 (7 Cir. 1969), permits the imposition of serious sanctions on long-haired students without the promulgation of written rules; (2) whether such rules are subject to the same vagueness and overbreadth standards applied in Soglin v. Kauffman;*fn3 (3) whether school board officials can delegate authority to each teacher to refuse class admittance to a student whose hair length the teacher deems unacceptable;*fn4 and (4) whether the hearing provided on June 16 and 19 satisfies the requirements of procedural due process.*fn5 We do not consider these issues and instead decide ...

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