Dress Not for Success: Fifty Years of American Dress Codes Burdening Students

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  • Topic: High school, Dress code, School uniform
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  • Published : April 18, 2013
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Karnik Soghomonian
Professor Brauer
Writing 39C
February 16th, 2012
Dress Not For Success: Fifty Years of American Dress Codes Burdening Students Over the past fifty years, dress code policies have been a major topic, a topic repeatedly protested against by American high school students. However, at the same time, dress codes have gained popularity in school districts across America. Since the 1960s, drastic measures have been taken to prevent students from wearing certain clothing of their choosing, in fear that the message presented on their clothing being too controversial. Consequently, students have been burdened with dress codes that infringe upon their First Amendment rights. This ongoing trend of imposing dress codes in schools has plagued America for years, resulting in numerous law suits and student punishments. The dress code debate in American Public schools can be traced through various inconsistent rulings in the court cases dating back to 1969, and continued to gain speed as a result of falsified information gathered to encourage dress codes in 1994. This debate has continued despite evidence suggesting its uselessness founded by Dr. David L Brunsma in 1998 and despite the negative psychological effects that dress codes could potentially cause, as implied by Psychoanalysis Erik Erikson in the 1960s. Controversy over American public school dress code policies gained the nation’s attention in 1968, when a group of high school and middle school students attending schools at Des Moines Independent Community School District (DMICSD) in Iowa claimed that their personal rights were being violated in the American schooling system. According to the students, they had been suspended from their school for half a month for wearing black armbands at school protesting the Vietnam War. Their school had suspended them on the grounds of violating the school district’s dress code policy, which stated that no students were allowed to convey any type of message through their speech or their clothing. Due to what they felt was an overbreach of school codes into their rights, the students sued the school district on November 12th, 1968. In the months that followed, the case, now known as Tinker, et al v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, et al, 393 U.S. 503, reached the level of the Supreme Court. On February 24th, 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the students saying, “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” (Tinker). A result of the court case was a set of rules now known as the Tinker Standard, which state that a school district cannot ban any students’ rights unless they can point to specialized evidence that the specific right caused a substantial disruption of education and school activities. The Tinker Standards also state that if a student’s clothing portrays a clear and easy to understand message, the school has no right to hide that message (Hudson 150). This is still the standard in which our court system is supposed to abide. However, as will be mentioned further, the Tinker Standard has been ignored almost completely for forty years by the American School System and the court system (i.d. 154). One such case that ignored the Tinker Standard was Broussard v. School Board of Norfolk in 1992. A student wore a t-shirt bearing the message “Drugs Suck” to her middle school in Norfolk, Virginia. The student had worn the t-shirt several times to school previously; however on one occasion the student was stopped in the school hallway and sent to the principal’s office where the student was held for the remainder of the day, losing a full day of education. The student, with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the school district for overbreach. Even though the t-shirt had a plain and easy to understand message that ‘drugs suck,’ which should have...
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