The usual public high school graduation ceremony controversies involve the graduates: must the graduate wear a robe? are the robes gender-segregated? must the robes not be adorned with cultural, religious, or other insignia?
But reportedly, a public high school in Virginia excluded a graduate’s parents for not conforming to the graduation dress code because they were wearing “jeans and tennis shoes.”
Just as students have constitutional rights at graduation, so do spectators. The parents may have a difficult time arguing that their dress was sufficiently “expressive” to meet the threshold for a First Amendment claim. But the parents may have an easier time arguing that the dress code for spectators infringed upon a liberty interest under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In any case, the school principal’s argument that there was advance notice of the dress code holds little weight: the problem is not notice, but the substantive restrictions placed upon parents coming to a public school ceremony to see their child graduate.
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