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Supporting Dress Code

The Court’s decision in Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) prompts many to believe that school dress codes are unconstitutional.  Although Tinker does indeed provide some battleground for those that oppose the implementation of dress codes, the final passage of the Court’s decision—“unless the schools officials could show that there would be material interference with, or substantial disruption of, the school’s normal routine”—has proven extremely viable in helping administrators overcome the argument of First Amendment rights in adopting dress codes.

Supporting Dress Code

This example is well illustrated in the case of Phillips v. Anderson County School District Five, in which a middle school student filed suit after being suspended from Lakeside Middle School for refusing to remove his jacket “made to look like the Confederate battle flag.  After being suspended for three days for wearing the jacket to class, the student’s father returned his son to school again wearing the jacket.  At this point the student was suspended for five days.  A deadlock ensued as the school refused to allow the student to wear the jacket and the father refused to send the child to school without it claiming that doing so violated his son’s First Amendment rights.

When the case went before the Court, two facts were revealed that ultimately served as a detriment to the student’s case.  First, the school district already had a dress code policy in place.  The policy states that “attire should not interfere with class instruction and that offending students would be advised to correct their dress problems or visit the office where a parent will be called to bring appropriate clothes or pick up the student”.  Given the existence of the current policy and relying on the Tinker decision, the court found that the student’s First Amendment rights had not been violated because the school had a reasonable basis for suspecting that the Confederate jacket that the student wore would indeed cause disruption: “the evidence showed that several recent racially-motivated fights at Lakewood had been sparked by Confederate clothing, and that the student had himself been involved in one of those fights”.  Second, Lakeside Middle School had a strict policy on adherence to teacher rules and policies.

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