Dress codes are a hot-button issue in middle-school classrooms. While some think of dress codes as a way to improve student discipline, others see them as a way to stifle individuality during a time when students are just learning to express themselves. Many schools have had success with dress codes, but administrators, teachers and parents must take a close look at the issues surrounding dress codes before determining whether they are necessary for their school.
Reasons for Adopting a Dress Code
Typically, schools adopt a dress code for one of two reasons: to improve student discipline or to keep students safe. According to National School and Safety Services, dress codes help reduce gang activity and help prevent conflict related to socioeconomic status. At an age where student hormones are just starting to rage, middle-school dress codes can also prevent short skirts, low-cut shirts and other pieces of clothing that may cause students to pay more attention to the opposite sex.
Enforcing Dress Codes
How the dress code is enforced plays a big role in its effectiveness. Often teachers let minor dress-code violations slide, making it difficult to punish students when they are cited for major violations. If a dress code is not enforced by all school employees, it can lead to division within the school and confusion among parents and students. Particularly detailed dress codes may require teachers to spend more time enforcing the dress code and less time focusing on instruction.
During the middle-school years, students are often beginning to come out of their shells. This includes experimenting with fashion and developing a personal style. Strict school dress codes, where students are allowed to wear only a few types or colors of clothing, may inhibit this stage of their development and force students to be like everyone else. At the same time, a strict dress code may prevent students with highly unique senses of style or those who cannot afford expensive clothing from being bullied or harassed.
Freedom of Speech
Many students and organizations, including the ACLU, feel that dress codes that ban clothing with religious or political messages on it infringe on students' freedom of speech. Some have even taken their cases to court and seen favorable results. In 2007, a student in Napa, California, sued the school district after being assigned detention for wearing socks featuring Tigger, a character from Winnie-the-Pooh. Many schools ban these messages, as well as those that promote violence or drug use, to help keep students safe and prevent students from being offended or bullied.
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