ERIC Number: ED355595
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 1992-Oct-30
Reference Count: N/A
School Dress Codes v. The First Amendment: Ganging up on Student Attire.
Jahn, Karon L.
Do school dress codes written with the specific purpose of limiting individual dress preferences, including dress associated with gangs, infringe on speech freedoms granted by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Although the Supreme Court has extended its protection of political speech to nonverbal acts of communication, it has determined that students' choice of dress as a means of personal expression can be regulated by school officials. Over the last two decades, federal judges have divided evenly on the question of whether guarantees of privacy and free speech apply to teenagers' choice of dress. Some courts have insisted that the constitutional rights of individual students be balanced against the need for school officials to make reasonable health and safety regulations. School officials use the goals of their dress codes as a platform to support specific bans on gang and other inappropriate attire. A review of school dress codes reveals that most codes: (1) prohibit revealing attire that can cause embarrassment" and "graphics that are suggestively obscene or offensive on any garments"; (2) state that students may not disrupt the educational process by their personal grooming and cleanliness, or lack thereof; and (3) designate appropriate dress as that which is "within the limits of generally accepted community standards." Despite numerous court cases invoking the captive audience doctrine (i.e., not being forced to view messages that threaten or discomfort), placing limits on the personal expression of some students because others find their dress disgusting or the context unacceptable, closes off a productive avenue for debate and unnecessarily infringes on students' first amendment rights. (Forty-one footnotes are included.) (SAM)
Publication Type: Information Analyses; Opinion Papers; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: First Amendment