United States of America has faced numerous issues with dress codes of students particularly in its public schools. School boards have shown concern regarding violence, discipline or lewd behavior resulting from certain items of clothing. Some have proved the connection of clothing to disturbing behavior. Some schools ban certain items of apparel such as bandanas, tank tops, halter tops, torn clothing, baggy pants, etc. while some school boards have adopted the compulsory uniform policies. Some schools have clear-cut specific policies like banning certain clothes or appearance while some have vague policies that generalize the situation by making clauses like, "clothes should conform to the standards of good taste and decency" (Bhatti, 1999). People have shown different point-of-views regarding policies related to dress codes. In all cases the dress code policy is the responsibility of states rather than federation. Different states and school boards have adopted different policies regarding dress codes in schools as mentioned earlier. There have been numerous lawsuits resulting from dress codes and uniform policies. In many cases students have won their right of freedom of expression under United States Constitution. In some other cases courts have upheld the restrictions imposed by school boards to allow smooth functioning of the educational system. Students' opinion in this regard has been mostly of defiance particularly with respect to same uniform for all students' policy. There have been many individual cases of lawsuits with particular appearance and item of clothing but the majorities of students do not show a proclivity towards uniforms. Parents' opinion however seems divided in this regard. Some heavily support and while some staunchly go against it. Even school boards differ on policies regarding dress codes. The debate on issues related to dress codes in the United States of America continues. This paper attempts to look at the important issues regarding general dress codes and issue of compulsory uniform with help of study of lawsuits filed in Court of Justice.
The Right in the Laws
American constitution provides its countrymen the right of freedom of expression under its laws. Americans are of the view that this right of freedom is not just related to speech and writing but they can express themselves in the form of clothes as well. They believe they can wear what they want and these are the rights the students want to exercise when they confront school dress codes that they think at times restricts their freedom of expression. In this regard, it would be necessary to mention the clauses invoked to support the point-of-view of freedom to wear what they want. The first important link in the legal book is the First Amendment. According to the First Amendment of U.S. Constitution, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances" (Hoge, Field, Foster & Nickel, 2002). It is not just the First Amendment that strengthens the right of freedom of an individual in the United States but another Amendment called Fourteenth Amendment also supports and guarantees all of its citizens' equality. The Fourteenth Amendment states, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" (Hoge, Field, Foster & Nickel, 2002). On the basis of these two Amendments the citizens support their freedom of expression rights. Many parents argue that strict dress codes and uniform policies restrict their children's rights under this Fourteenth Amendment. For example, religious or cultural beliefs are not allowed to be reflected, children with physical disabilities or large sizes face a number of problems with limited options and sizes available and most importantly students are suspended from school on the basis of dress codes and are denied their basic right of free public education. These are just a few accusation made by parents and students with respect to their rights awarded by the U.S. constitution.
Schools & Lawsuits
All the educators in U.S. have this fear of lawsuits coming their way. The lawsuits range from very frivolous to something very serious. Parents and students have been using their legal rights in the courts against, schools, educators, teachers and principals. Though statistics suggest the lawsuits against schools peaked in the 70s and 80s and now there are not as many suit as there used to be but still lawsuits are a cause of concern. Educators all over U.S. try to avoid all such lawsuits as much as possible as they cause unnecessary trouble at times.
Initially the lawsuits started with rights for special education and personal grievances but with the passage of time anything frivolous possible has been brought in its scope. Among all these lawsuits concerning injuries, fights, harassments, the lawsuits regarding freedom of expression have been quite common. Educators have been hit regarding dress codes in particular with the opinion that certain instructions regarding dress codes restrict children's freedom of expression.
Billups, in her 1999 article, has briefly mentioned a couple of cases filed against schools and educators. For instance, a high school girl in Jasper was asked by the teachers to hide here cross under the shirt because open display of religious symbols was going against the dress code of the school. The school was sued by the parents of the student for restricting her freedom of religious expression. Similarly, in another case, a 13-year-old student sued her school for suspending her for wearing black lipstick to school considering it against the acceptable dress code. Many of these suits have resulted in extra burden for school finances if no settlement is achieved out of the court. Its not just finances that drain away in such lawsuit but hey also take a lot of time of schools, principals, teachers and administrators. Emotional draining also takes place on part of principals also. Reputation of schools, principals and educators also come under attack in cases of lawsuits.
The issue of lawsuits of schools became so important that George W. Bush, the presidential candidate for 2000 elections, proposed laws for the protection of teaching staff from 'junk lawsuits'. At times lawsuits take place because educators were not aware of some legal considerations clearly. For this purpose many schools appraise their educators with different legal considerations using attorneys. Whatever the reasons be, the ideal solution to the problem is out of the court settlement and dealing with the case as amicably as possible to save time, money and repute.
Dress codes at schools have resulted in a number of legal battles. There have been a number of lawsuits regarding particular dresses, appearance and even against uniforms. Students, parents or legal advisors should first properly study the dress codes statements of the school before filing a lawsuit because courts have given different decisions in different cases depending upon the words used in dress codes policies. There has not been a single pattern in the rulings. For different dress and different body modifications such as tattoos and piercing, outcome of cases has been different. In case of hair colors also different battles have been fought and students have won who changed their hair color to blue. In the famous 1972 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Massie v. Henry, student was granted a right to wear his hair the way he wants it. Most hair color cases get American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) support and they do not make it to the court because ACLU intervenes and schools then respond positively. Body piercing and rings have however, not been most successful cases as schools put forward their stance of rejecting gang activities and symbols. In an Illinois case male students were restricted from using body piercing to discourage gang culture and court supported school's stance mentioning that piercing does not come under First Amendment freedom of expression protection and is rather an individual act. In a 1978 case of Ferra v. Hendry County School Board a male student was even prohibited from growing a mustache. In another case in Bethal School District v, Fraser, Supreme Court passed a verdict to restrict lewd, vulgar, offensive and uncivilized clothing in 1986. Mostly students who have excellent academic records to support their individuality have in many cases won their legal battles. Academic achievements help them in winning over judges and getting their point-of-view across. There are many cases that have been filed with respect to dress codes, uniforms and appearance of students. Here a couple of cases are being mentioned so that a picture can be portrayed regarding this issue.
Tinker v. Des Moines
Case of Tinker is one of the most famous cases filed with respect to dress codes. In fact, this one case became a…