Iowa school district’s dress code goes too far, state judge finds

Sunday, October 24, 2010

DES MOINES, Iowa — An administrative law judge says the Waterloo school district went too far with its dress code.

Administrative Law Judge Carol Greta said she understood school officials’ attempt to create a positive school environment, but she recommended that the State Board of Election reverse the dress code.

In May, Waterloo Community Schools adopted a policy that banned T-shirts, jeans, hooded shirts and flip flops. It requires students to wear solid-color shirts with collars.

But parents say the policy is illegal because it tells students what they can wear rather than prohibiting items they can’t wear.

The appeal was based on a state law that allows districts to ban “gang-related or other specific apparel” if the board determines that the policy is necessary for safety or a “positive educational environment.”

Greta ruled that the statute did not give school officials the authority to institute a “prescriptive” dress code.

“We are not unsympathetic to the District’s position that a dress code that goes beyond ‘what not to wear’ may have several desirable outcomes for students, staff, and families of the District,” Greta wrote. “This Decision does not mean that a prescriptive uniform dress code policy is wise or unwise. However, whether [the law] should be expanded to give authority to public school boards to enact prescriptive uniform policies must be left to the Legislature to decide, not the local school boards and not the State Board of Education.”

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