- Associated Press - Friday, February 14, 2014

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A federal appeals court Friday revived a lawsuit filed by the parents of two Washoe County school children over a mandatory uniform policy at a Reno elementary school, saying a slogan logo that reads “Tomorrow’s Leaders” amounts to compelled speech and carries First Amendment implications.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a previous ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Jones, who in January 2012 dismissed the case filed by Mary and Jon Frudden over the mandated uniforms at Roy Gomm Elementary School.

The appellate court also questioned a policy exemption for nationally recognized groups such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts that allows students to wear those uniforms on regular meeting days. The judges said that exception is “content based,” adding further debate to First Amendment arguments.

The 9th Circuit panel referred the case back to the district court for further proceedings, saying administrators and Washoe County School District officials did not present justifications for including the written motto or the exemption and that Fruddens were not given an opportunity to argue otherwise.

School district officials deferred comment on the ruling until legal counsel reviewed it.

Mary Frudden said she was happy with the decision, even though it focused on just one aspect of their arguments involving the First Amendment.

“There was so much wrong with the whole entire process, how it was implemented, who did it, the way it was done,” Frudden told the Associated Press. “It’s the entire package. The reason we’re here is because of the big picture of it all.”

The Fruddens argued that their children were threatened with suspension for not wearing the uniforms that were adopted by a parent-faculty group and implemented by the principal in 2011.

Students are required to wear red or navy polo-type shirts and tan or khaki bottoms. A logo on the shirts depicts a gopher with the school’s name and the words “Tomorrow’s Leaders.”

The appeals court said the written expression on the uniforms sets the Roy Gomm case apart from previous challenges to school uniforms in which the outfits were found constitutional. In its ruling, the judges said had Roy Gomm’s uniforms consisted of plain-colored tops and bottoms without a message, the school “would have steered clear of any First Amendment concerns.”

Judges also noted the ideological message of the words was not an issue, but rather the requirement that they be displayed.

A separate lawsuit filed by the Fruddens is also pending before the Nevada Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in January but has yet to rule.

In that case, Mary Frudden argued that the uniform policy violates state law because it wasn’t implemented by the school board but a parent-faculty group and the principal. She further claimed the process violated the state’s open meeting law and that there was no demonstration of why uniforms were needed before they were required.

Randy Drake, chief counsel for the school district, countered that state law gives principals authority to impose uniforms and about 30 schools in the county have done so.