ACLU: Cassia dress code is discriminatory

(UPDATED, 4:06 p.m., with statement from Cassia County School District.)

The ACLU of Idaho is taking the Cassia County School District to task again — this time over a dress code it considers discriminatory.

According to the district’s graduation dress code, girls are expected to wear “white or pastel dress or white or pastel blouse and skirt,” while boys are told to wear pants. Girls are allowed to wear sandals to graduation; boys cannot.

“These are the kinds of things that you look at and just shake your head,” ACLU of Idaho legal director Richard Eppink said in a news release. “It is 2015 here in Idaho, but sometimes you wouldn’t know it.”

The ACLU says it has launched investigations into dress codes at “several” other districts. But in a letter to district superintendents Tuesday, ACLU of Idaho acting executive director Leo Morales said it is difficult to “preventatively discover all of the discriminatory dress standards enforced in Idaho public schools.

Cassia County is the only district the ACLU mentions by name. And this represents the latest salvo between ACLU and Cassia County schools.

The ACLU has taken up the case of Sierra Norman, a student at Declo High School. Norman says she was barred from running for student body president because she isn’t Mormon — and in its latest complaint, the ACLU says one of the school’s teachers spoke of beating Norman. District officials have said Norman was barred from running in school elections because she was taking too many dual-credit classes to qualify as a full-time student.

The two complaints are at least partly related, Morales told Idaho Education News Tuesday. “For this instance, Cassia County School District has put their gender discriminatory policies in writing.”

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, the Cassia district says it encourages students to be individuals — while considering the significance of graduation ceremonies.

“The district encourages students to dress in a way that reflects the importance of the event not only to them but to all other attendees,” the statement read, in part. “Previous dress guidelines issued by the district reflect the importance of graduation, as well as the longstanding historical standards of the community.”

In his letter Tuesday, Morales urges school superintendents to not enforce any discriminatory dress codes — and to update local dress codes if they discover discriminatory language.