May public schools impose dress codes and uniforms?

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Many students are able to express themselves through what they wear to school, but more and more teen-agers are facing restrictions as school boards across the country adopt more stringent policies.

Some states have passed laws empowering school boards to regulate student dress. For instance, Tennessee has a law allowing school boards to pass policies prohibiting the wearing of “gang related apparel.” In 2001, Arkansas passed a law requiring school boards to create an “advisory committee” of parents and students to consider whether their local school district should require uniforms. Arizona has a law giving local school boards the power to adopt uniform policies. New Jersey passed a law saying that school boards may adopt a dress code or uniform policy if requested by the principal, staff and teachers and “if the board determines that the policy will enhance the school learning environment”

Many courts have upheld dress-code and uniform policies as a reasonable way to instill discipline and create a positive educational environment. Federal appeals courts have recently upheld uniform policies in Texas and Louisiana. The courts determined that the policies were not imposed to suppress students’ freedom of expression but to further reasonable educational objectives.

The Supreme Court has not decided a case involving a challenge to a dress-code or uniform policy.