Do Uniforms Make Schools Better?
By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff
Uniforms vs. Dress Codes
Schools and districts vary widely in how closely they adhere to the concept of uniformity.
What's a dress code?
Generally, dress codes are much less restrictive than uniform policies. Sometimes, however, dress codes are nearly as strict, as in the case of a middle school in Napa, California. This particular school's dress code required students to wear solid colors and banned images or logos on clothes. When a student was sent to detention for wearing socks adorned with the image of Winnie-the-Pooh's friend Tigger, the girl's family sued the school district for violating her freedom of speech. In August of 2007, the district announced it would relax its dress code - for the time being - to allow images and fabrics other than solid colors. The district superintendent, while admitting that banning images on clothes raises concerns about the restriction of political and religious speech, announced his intention to move soon toward implementing uniforms in the district.
Uniforms are certainly easier for administrators to enforce than dress codes. Consider two recent examples of students challenging dress codes through the courts.
In June of 2007, the United States Supreme Court upheld a lower court's decision affirming a Vermont student's right to wear a T-shirt depicting President Bush surrounded by drug and alcohol images. The school had suspended the student, not for the anti-Bush political statement, but for violating a dress code that prohibits drug and alcohol images. The courts, however, disagreed with the school and found that, because the images referred to Bush's alleged past use of cocaine and alcohol, they were protected as free political expression.
In March of 2007, the Supreme Court "vacated" or set aside the decision of a lower court upholding a San Diego high school's suspension of a student for wearing an anti-gay T-shirt. The school argued that the T-shirt was hateful and inflammatory. The Supreme Court's action essentially struck down the school's argument and upheld the student's right to free speech.
In both of these cases, the schools' attempts to protect students from drug and alcohol images or hateful speech were reversed in favor of free speech. To clarify the matter somewhat, the Supreme Court ruled in June of 2007 in favor of a school in Alaska that had suspended a student for displaying a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." The court ruled that the reference to drugs in this case had no political message and could indeed be seen as advocating drug use.
Check with your school to see what the dress code is, as they can be fairly specific. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example, the dress code prohibits:
-Decorations (including tattoos) that are symbols, mottoes, words or acronyms that convey crude, vulgar, profane, violent, gang-related, sexually explicit or suggestive messages
-Large or baggy clothes (this prohibition can be used to keep students from excessive "sagging")
-Holes in clothes
-Scarves, curlers, bandanas or sweatbands inside of school buildings (exceptions are made for religious attire)
-Bare midriffs, immodestly low-cut necklines or bare backs
-Tights, leggings, bike shorts, swim suits or pajamas as outerwear
-Visible piercings, except in the ear
-Dog collars, tongue rings and studs, wallet chains, large hair picks, or chains that connect one part of the body to another