ERIC Number: ED393199
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1996-Mar
Dress Codes and Gang Activity.
Gluckman, Ivan B.
A Legal Memorandum, Mar 1996
Concern with school violence and efforts to reduce gang visibility at school have led to controversy about students' constitutional rights to freedom of expression. This document outlines legal precedents and offers guidelines for developing a sound school policy on dress codes. It answers the following questions: (1) Are gang clothing and symbols protected forms of expression? (2) Are gang symbols different from protected, nondisruptive symbols? (3) Are there other grounds for regulating gang symbols? and (4) Are there limits on the degree to which gang symbols can be regulated? Generally speaking, if a board can show that the "message" of gang attire substantially interferes with the learning environment, then restrictions on attire will probably be upheld. A student's right of expression can constitutionally be limited if it interferes with another student's right to learn. By contrast, if a board cannot prove that a gang problem exists, justification for a gang-clothing restriction is considerably weaker. School districts must have a clear and reasonable basis for their policy. A policy that stresses the importance of reducing distractions that inhibit learning is more likely to succeed than a dress code or policy that stresses restricting gang communication via limitations on attire. If the message being conveyed to students is one of intimidation, fear, or threat of violence, dress regulations should be addressed as an attempt to control the learning environment, and not as a freedom-of-expression issue. Although courts often defer to school board expertise, it will be critical that boards carefully draft regulations that balance the individual's freedom of expression with the public interest in quality education. (LMI)
Descriptors: Boards of Education, Compliance (Legal), Constitutional Law, Dress Codes, Elementary Secondary Education, Freedom of Speech, Juvenile Gangs, School Policy, Social Control, Student Behavior, Student Rights
National Association of Secondary School Principals, 1904 Association Drive, Reston, VA 22091-1537 ($3, nonmembers; $2, members; quantity discounts).
Publication Type: Collected Works - Serials; Legal/Legislative/Regulatory Materials
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: National Association of Secondary School Principals, Reston, VA.