School Uniforms and Dress Codes
By Linda Lumsden and Gabriel Miller
"Uniforms by themselves cannot solve all of the problems of school discipline, but they can be one positive contributing factor to discipline and safety"
When left to decide what clothes to wear to school, students do not always make choices that adults agree with. While the majority may at least minimally conform to adults’ ideas about what’s appropriate, a few may clearly push the limits. Some may arrive at school in T-shirts that bear slogans or images promoting drugs and alcohol, or that display a variety of messages that conflict with values the schools are trying to promote. Others may swagger around the halls in gang-related garb. Still others may show up in sexually provocative clothing. These issues, as well as a desire to minimize socioeconomic tensions between the "haves" and "have nots," have spurred some schools to adopt more stringent dress codes or to require students to wear uniforms.
Concerns about school safety have also prompted interest in strict dress codes or school uniforms. As the U.S. Department of Education's Manual on School Uniforms notes, "Uniforms by themselves cannot solve all of the problems of school discipline, but they can be one positive contributing factor to discipline and safety."
But while administrators have concerns about school violence, they also have concerns about potential lawsuits. Just how much leeway do administrators have in regulating what students wear? How far does student freedom of expression extend? What elements can make a school’s dress-related policies more likely to survive legal challenges and to engender support (or at least acceptance) from students and parents?
Although many of these questions may never have definitive answers, the works reviewed here explore some of these issues and offer guidance to principals whose goal is to maintain a school climate that effectively fosters learning, safety, a sense of community, and respect for self and others.
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