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The boards of directors for the Canby School District and Canby Union High School in 1965 grappled with an extremely weighty matter, one that was a threat to “school conduct, pursuit of studies and general attitude of respect and loyalty to their school, teachers and community.”
What was this insidious malice? Sex? No. Drugs? Worse. Rock ’n’ roll? Meh. Close enough.
It was long hair (for boys) and “extremely short skirts,” plus heavy makeup, for the ladies. The high school took action banning such immodesty before the start of the 1965-66 school year, while Canby Superintendent Paul Ackerman and the Canby School Board took similar action in January 1966, after noticing similar behavior at Canby Grade School.
Get Out of My Hair
These standards were relaxed a few years later, but only after a 17-year-old Canby Union High School student challenged them all the way to federal court. In 1970, the high school refused to allow David Schwartz to attend classes over his shoulder-length hair.
They told him to go to a barbershop. Instead, he went to the ACLU. His decision was less rash than it may seem, and was actually suggested by Oregon Attorney General Lee Johnson, who gave the opinion that the district’s policy violated students’ constitutional rights, mainly the right to free expression guaranteed under the First Amendment, and was unlikely to hold up in court.
“Should the school district, in the present state of facts, persist in excluding Mr. Schwartz, he would probably succeed in obtaining a federal court injunction against the district,” the attorney general wrote.
The AG’s opinion on the case had been sought by Deputy State Superintendent Jesse Fasold, who wrote that the youth’s hair had not created any disruption or health hazard, and that the boy had not been involved in any disciplinary problems.
“His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Deos, have informed us that their son wears his hair this way because he believes it is attractive, and they fully back him up in his desire to wear long hair,” Fasold wrote.
The same could not be said of my own parents when I went through my — ahem — stoner phase in high school, but I digress.
The suit demanded that Schwartz be readmitted to Canby Union High School, and also asked for a cool $20,000 for the youth’s troubles. I would have skipped out on my senior year of high school for a whole lot less than 20 grand, but hey — that’s just me.
Schwartz also claimed he had been on the receiving end of vague threats of reprisal from the district if he went forward with the lawsuit.
Threats or not, the youth went forward with his claim, and two months after the start of the school year, he won his case via a ruling in federal district court in Portland. The judge declared the case moot after the school district agreed to change their conduct code to allow “deviations” if a student brought a written statement of approval from his or her parents.
As to damages, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin offered no opinion. Indeed, he was of the mind that the matter should have been brought to state court — not federal.
“Cultural conflict between the generations and between rural and urban societies has inflamed the passions of the partisans in this litigation,” he wrote, “but I have concluded that the rights and duties of those interested in the length of the hair of minor children do not present substantial federal questions.”
Bobby Kennedy Speaks in Canby
In 1968, a truly remarkable thing happened: A candidate for U.S. president realized that there were American voters living in the state of Oregon. U.S. Senator and Democratic frontrunner Robert F. Kennedy visited the state, and on April 19, he stopped in the parking lot of Canby Union High School for brief remarks on his way to Corvallis for a major speech.
Known for addressing crowds of minority and young voters in such unpretentious ways (he had delivered his now-famous speech on the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. from the back of a flatbed pickup truck), he spoke for about five minutes to hundreds of high school students and other community members, who surely thought they were hearing from a man who just might be their next president.
Of course, it was not to be. Less than two months later, Bobby Kennedy would be dead, after being shot three times on June 5, the night he won the California primary.
Up in Smoke
In 1971, Canby Union High School students again felt the call to fight for their rights, though they were less successful this go-round. The virtue this time? The “right” to pollute one’s lungs with tar and nicotine.
The school district’s ban on cigarettes had never been a problem, but that was before a strange law was passed by the Oregon Legislature, one that allowed minors of all ages to smoke cigarettes, but still required you to be at least 18 to buy them.
When the high school refused to budge, an estimated 40 to 50 students held a protest sit-in before Christmas break, demanding that the no-smoking policy be repealed and that a smoking area be designated on campus.
Not all students were in support of the sit-in however, and the protesters eventually returned to school after even their fellow students voiced their opposition to their tactics.
According to the Canby Herald, the pro-smoking movement at Canby High was “85 percent” female, and 80 percent underclassmen.
“Smoking is more of a problem with girls than with boys, and discipline problems with girls ‘have multiplied 100-fold in recent years,’” the Herald recorded.
We have one more slate of stories to tell you before we wrap up our long-running series on the history of the Canby School District. That’s next time, on Canby Then.
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