December 7: Massachusetts Supreme Court Nixes Long Hair in High School

 

In 1845 President Polk had a mullet running down the back of his neck, but in the world wars hair was kept short to keep lice and fleas at bay, and it stayed short for the next twenty years. Numerous dress code handbooks expressly stated that boys’ hair could not be combed forward.[i] But after the Beatles showed up, newspaper stories of boys being sent home until they got their haircut proliferated.

Massachusetts’ Attleboro High School student George Leonard, Jr. went to court over the issue. By night he was Georgie Porgie, the front man for a band called the Cry Babies that played sock hops, churches, and amusement parks. On September 11, 1964, three days into his senior year, the principal sent him home and said he couldn’t come back till his hair was decent. A hearing before the school committee upheld the principal’s ruling three weeks later. Porgie’s manager was his father, and in a brilliant PR move he filed a lawsuit saying his son was a professional musician who needed to have long hair for his job. And besides, it was his constitutional right. His dad asserted that the school was overstepping into the parents’ domain and illegally keeping his son from graduating. He asked for a speedy hearing, but the Superior Court did not accommodate him – it would not be until a year later, on October 8, 1965, that “Leonard, Jr., vs. School Committee of Attleboro” would go before the Massachusetts Supreme Court, with a decision rendered on December 7 (see chapter 25).

The Court decreed, “We are of the opinion that the unusual hair style of the plaintiff could disrupt and impede the maintenance of a proper classroom atmosphere or decorum. This is an aspect of personal appearance and hence akin to matters of dress. Thus as with any unusual, immodest or exaggerated mode of dress, conspicuous departures from accepted customs in the matter of haircuts could result in the distraction of other pupils.” If schools didn’t have the right to enforce their code, they would not be able to handle “unpredictable activities of large groups of children.”[ii] The ACLU took on a similar long hair high school case in Dallas the following year, and lost as well.[iii] Leonard never did go back to high school, but continued on as a professional musician.

REFERENCES:

[i] James T. Patterson, The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America, Google eBook.

[ii] “George Leonard, Jr., & Another Vs. School Committee of Attleboro & Others,” masscases.com, http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/349/349mass704.html

[iii] Michael E. Young, “In ’66, Their Hair Triggered A To-Do: Stylish Marcus Proved An Ally In Band’s Battle To Keep Long Locks,” The Dallas Morning News, March 4, 2002.

 

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