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School dress codes violate the First Amendment

Author: Dottie Maguire
by Dottie Maguire
Posted: Nov 03, 2015

It isn't odd nowadays for schools to have a dress code. Most dress codes require that students be dressed appropriately for school in a way that will not be a safety issue.

Recently however, there has been a growing push back against dress codes that target women and gender non-conforming students in an obvious way. For example, at Oakleaf High School in Jacksonville, Florida, a teenage girl was forced to wear brightly colored and baggy sweatpants and a sweatshirt that had "dress code violation" stamped on them in huge letters.

This is just one story of many like it that illustrate the larger issue in American society. Many administrators believe they are doing nothing wrong. What's wrong with asking young people- especially young women- to cover up and not be a distraction? Well, besides the possible health risks (coming back to school could mean covering up in 90 plus degree heat), these dress codes are a violation of federal law.

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When young women are told that their shoulders or knees are "distracting" their classmates, you are enforcing the idea that their bodies are shameful and should be covered up at all times, and that it is their responsibility to make sure men are not tempted by their bodies (including teachers as well as students).

Not only that, but you send them the message that their male peers' education comes before their own. Some may argue that if their undergarments are showing, like a bra strap, then the student should be punished. However, I have personally seen many boys walk around school with their underpants showing and none of them have been punished, to my knowledge.

Beyond the sexism going on here, this violates not one, but two federal laws. Dress codes that prohibit piercings, boys having long hair/girls having short hair, shirts with political slogans on them, and other such things are in direct violation of the First Amendment. Unless clothing or accessories poses a serious threat to safety, or has expletives on it, schools do not have the right to keep students from wearing them. Also, if girls are taken out of class for "inappropriate" attire, this goes against Title IX, because it forces girls to miss out on opportunities to learn. Dress codes that target women's clothing like spaghetti straps or short shorts, or ones that humiliate girls who violate dress code are also against Title IX.

At Winnacunnet High School, we are lucky to have a reasonable dress code. But coming from a middle school that had ridiculous rules- like "straps that must be three fingers wide" or "shorts/skirts must be an inch past your fingertips"- I can attest to the effects of these codes. I have felt physically sick because of heat. I have felt ashamed, frightened, and humiliated. And I know that it has to stop.

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Author: Dottie Maguire

Dottie Maguire

Member since: Mar 06, 2015
Published articles: 118

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