Betsy Crumbliss
Seth Jacobs
Court Case
East Hartford Education Association v. Board of Education
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
August 19, 1977


Background: The East Hartford Board of Education set a dress code for teachers, including ties for men in February 1972. Mr. Richard Brimley, a teacher of high school English and filmmaking, was usually seen wearing a jacket and sport shirt, without a tie. After the new rule was put in place he still did not wear a tie and was reprimanded. After he was reprimanded, he appealed to the principal and was told he only had to wear a tie when he taught English, not when he was teaching his filmmaking classes. He then appealed to the superintendent, but without success he began wearing the tie until he suddenly stopped and was reprimanded again. No disciplinary action was taken.

Decision & Rationale: The claim was that Mr. Brimley was making a “symbolic speech” by refusing to wear a tie, so the issue was concerning Freedom of Speech. The court considered the goals of the school board in requiring its teachers to dress somewhat formally, which inevitably was to create a respectful classroom. Therefore, the decision of the Supreme Court was that the matter was not a significant Constitutional issue and said that that the District Court made the right decision in dismissing the complaint. It also would have been more notable if disciplinary action had been taken.

Impact on Teaching: The impact on teaching is that if a school district we work in applies a dress code, we must follow it. Mr. Brimley was in violation of not abiding to the dress code, but he was not making some “symbolic speech” towards the school district. The Supreme Court ruled this was not an issue regarding the Constitution and the District Court was right in dismissing the claim. Another problem I took away from this on teaching is the principal telling Mr. Brimley one thing and the superintendent saying another. It’s a classic he said/she said scenario.

Applicable Quiz Question: What was the issue concerning?
Answer: Freedom of speech.