School dress code: Friend or foe?

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school uniform

Some schools—both private and public—have opted to require a uniform. (Shutterstock photo)

Should schools have dress codes? What about uniforms? If you ask a group of teenagers those questions, most would probably say they prefer the freedom to express themselves through clothing, and therefore a dress code is a horrible thing.

If you ask those teenagers’ parents the same questions, they will probably praise the idea of uniforms, hoping such a regulation will prevent students from showing too much skin or from wearing offensive sayings.

When it comes to a dress code for a school, there are two very distinct sides of the debate, and most facilities are forced to find a comfortable middle ground.

Pro dress code

People who support a dress code in school argue that limiting clothing allows students to express individuality in other ways—like through academics.

Having a dress code may also reduce the evidence of economic status between students, and may help parents with the costs related to wardrobe purchases at the start of each school year. Students who aren’t singled out will be less likely to feel bullied as well.

Taking things a bit further, some schools—both private and public—have opted to require a uniform rather than just limiting clothing through a list of regulations.

Those who support uniforms say they prevent the use of gang colors in schools; decrease the amount of theft and violence related to clothing; take the pressure off teachers to police outfits; foster a sense of community among students; and help students recognize people who should not be on school grounds.

Con dress code

dress code

People who support a dress code in school argue that limiting clothing allows students to express individuality in other ways. (Shutterstock photo)

The other side of the argument has just as many strong points.

According to those who feel dress codes are too restrictive, certain religions may suffer from such requirements. While religion has been separated from academics within most public schools, students are still allowed the freedom to believe as they choose, and if that religion requires certain clothing, a dress code may interfere.

Just as supporters of dress codes feel costs may be cut when it comes to back-to-school clothes buying, those who disapprove of the regulations feel clothing restrictions may actually increase the cost—especially if uniforms are required.

As for freedom of expression, which earned the debate a presence in the Supreme Court back in 1969, the government agreed that student expression was important, and that student’s freedom of expression must be protected unless it interfered with appropriate discipline.

School uniforms, however, have not specifically been addressed yet in the higher courts, leaving “freedom of expression” a semi-undefined area when it comes to clothing.

The middle ground

Because of strong opinions regarding dress codes, most educational facilities subject to public funding have opted to take a middle-ground approach.

The New York Times’ About.com lists the following ways schools have upheld dress codes without squashing individuality:

  • Allow more casual attire to be considered a uniform (jeans and t-shirts)
  • Allow outlets for expression such as political or support buttons, but nothing related to gangs or violence
  • Provide assistance for household where parents cannot afford school uniforms
  • Make exceptions for religious beliefs
  • Require teachers to adhere to a dress code in addition to students

What do you think about dress codes in schools?

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