Massie v. Henry, 455 F.2d 779 (4th Cir.,1972)
Three male students from Tuscola Senior High School, Haywood County, North Carolina were suspended for having hair longer than collar length and/or sideburns lower than their earlobes, which exceeded the guideline established by a school-based committee and the high school’s principal. The school regulation was put in place follow after an incident in which a student with long hair was called a “hippie” and a fight ensued. The regulation was also in place to preserve order in the classroom due to “considerable jest, disgust and amusement” caused by long hair on males. A teacher testified that the long hair got in the way of students being about to write on the board and a welding teacher testified that long hair was hazardous during welding instruction. The long hair was never claimed to be unhygienic, rather each of the plaintiffs were found to be clean and well-groomed.
Can a school exercise control over a student’s hairstyle?
The district court found the hair length regulation was justified and did not feel the students’ constitutional rights had been denied, which prompted the students to appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fourth Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision and overturned the school district policy banning long hair and sideburns on males.
The court reasoned that many of the founding fathers, Generals Grant and Lee, as well as Jesus would not have been able to attend Tuscola High School under the current hair policy. The Fourth Circuit also looked to the decisions of other Circuit Courts, notably the First, Seventh and Eighth Circuits which found regulations limiting the length of hair invalid “in the absence of persuasive reason and persuasive proof to support their promulgation and enforcement” (Massie v. Henry, 455 F.2d 779 (4th Cir.1972). The Court pointed to a 7th Circuit Court ruling (Breen v. Kahl), which held that the right to select the length of one’s hair was a due process right, which could be limited only by a showing of “substantial countervailing state interests” (Breen v. Kahl, 419 F.2d 1034 (7 Cir. 1969). The Fourth Circuit also considered another ruling from the 7th Circuit (Crews v. Cloncs), which “reiterated its holding in Breen that the right to select the length of one’s hair was a personal freedom protected by the Constitution” (Crews v. Cloncs, 432 F.2d 1259 (7 Cir. 1970). In the case of Crews v, Cloncs, the 7th Circuit thought that that neither the possibility of distracting other students, nor health and safety concerns, which could be solved by the use of hair ties or hair nets, were enough justification to deny the students the freedom to choose their hair length. The Fourth Circuit also looked to the decision by the First Circuit (Richards v. Thurston) which found that the right to select the length and style of one’s hair was a personal right of liberty protected by the due process clause and that “that right could be limited only by an outweighing state interest justifying the intrusion” (Richards v. Thurston, 424 F.2d 1281 (1 Cir. 1970). The final consideration by the Fourth Circuit was a ruling out of the Eighth Circuit (Bishop V. Colaw) which held that a person had a due process right to “govern his own personal appearance, so long as the justifications for the regulation were invalid,” (Bishop v. Colaw, 450 F.2d 1069 (8 Cir., 1971).
Following after the 1st, 7th, and 8th Circuits, the Fourth Circuit found that in this case (Massie v. Henry) the hair regulation was not based on health concerns, but rather discipline and safety, and that any potential disruptions caused by long hair were not sufficient enough to justify the school board’s regulation.