Dress codes versus the Constitution

The Littleton massacre may prompt your school administrators to ban trenchcoats, black clothing, and dark makeup. However, there is a1969 Supreme Court ruling that protects your right to express yourself with clothing. You also have additional Constitutional rights that provide protection from intolerant administrators.In the 1969 case, three government school students in Des Moines, Iowa were suspended from school for wearing black armbands to protest the Government’s policy in Vietnam. They responded by suing their school and eventually won in the Supreme Court of the United States.

The court held that since the students were quiet and passive, they were not disruptive and did not impinge upon the rights of others. In these circumstances, their conduct was within the protection of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth.

The court also held that First Amendment rights are available to teachers and students, subject to application in light of the special characteristics of the school environment. A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

According to a University of Cincinnati law professor, the 1969 decision freed public school student expression in word and garb. That means that you have the right to wear political clothing even if it is not imprinted with a message. The Vietnam protestors were simply wearing black armbands and it seems likely that they also would have won if they had chosen black trenchcoats.

If your school tries to ban attire that is not political, such as the Goth look, but not disruptive, then you have the right to sue your school for violating your Fourteen Amendment right to express your individuality.

Your school officials may claim that the more recent court decisions have decreased the impact of the 1969 decision. However, many of these decisions focused on attire that is disruptive to the school. For example, a student can probably not come to a school in a Ku Klux Klan uniform. Attire that is not disruptive may still be protected. Your teacher may not like Marilyn Manson T-shirts but that does not give him the right to ban them. We also doubt that judges would consider the Goth look to be disruptive.

According to Scott Greenwood, an American Civil Liberties Union Lawyer, “said educators can ban garments that are disruptive or promote violence, but not simply on the assumption that people who wear black trench coats or anything else will commit massacres.”

In summary, your attire is protected by the First and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution. Mention these amendments to your school officials if they comment on your attire. If you’re willing to go to court to affirm your right to express yourself, tell them that also. Remember that schools do not like court cases especially when they deal with the 1969 black armband case.

6 thoughts on “Dress codes versus the Constitution

  1. it is totally true. my school has a ban on facial piercings but i go against them since it is part of the way that i express myself.

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  4. I belive there shouldnt be dress codes in school, because we the kids have the right to express our selfs and if they do put dress codes it is stripping our indualaity

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