OPINION: Dress Codes are a Violation of the 1st Amendment

The first amendment is supposed to guarantee our right to freedom of speech and expression. However, there are many restrictions on this right, especially today. Most of these restrictions are so commonplace that people don’t question them, and just accept them as an unfortunate part of life. For example, any teenager that attends a public middle or high school has probably complained about their dress code. Some schools have over the top restrictions, blatant sexism, and rules that prevent the comfort of their students and interfere with learning. If that wasn’t bad enough, students don’t have the ability to express themselves when their clothing options are restricted. 

Public schools are not only funded by the government, but also require your attendance unless you choose to legally dropout at a certain age. If the government requires you to do something, it should not infringe upon your individual freedoms. One past example of a challenge to these rules occurred in 1969 with the Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines. Students wore wristbands to school to protest the government’s policies regarding the Vietnam War, but their school saw a problem with this. The Iowa school suspended the students merely for something they were wearing in peaceful protest. The court eventually ruled that the students had the right to peacefully protest and express their beliefs. Although this case is different than many of the problems with dress code that can be seen in schools today, it is an example where schools violated the rights of students. 

Today, problems generally center around the fact that dress codes are unnecessarily strict, unreasonable, and not equally enforced. Rules like not being able to wear tank tops or certain styles of shorts create discomfort when the weather is hot. The rules aren’t just impractical- they also hinder a student’s self-expression. Clothes look different on different bodies- tall girls get dress coded for their shorts and skirts being too short, while shorter girls don’t appear to be violating any rules. Students with certain body types are often targeted since they deviate from what is seen as acceptable in society. Girls are also often blamed for “distracting” the boys in the classroom, which justifies bans on leggings and shoulder-baring tops. Many of these rules perpetuate rape culture and have a harmful effect on young students. These dress codes prevent self-expression, and punish those who try.

Clothing with certain expressions and images are also forbidden in schools. One example is the student that was suspended in New York for wearing a shirt that was pro- second amendment. This is just one example of schools censoring political beliefs. These rules are often justified through claims of safety, but the line seems blurry, and too often crossed. Complaints can be brought about simply from a different belief, and require those expressing it to hide it or change it. Many of these decisions are extremely subjective and often unjust. This seems too close to censorship, especially when someone’s political beliefs are being targeted. 

When students violate the dress code, they are often forced to change at school, or are sent home. Not only does this have an impact on their education, it is extremely unnecessary. The 1st amendment is supposed to protect our right to freedom of speech. Why should we sacrifice that when we come to school, especially when it is the government that requires it? Education should be a place of discussion and learning to become better citizens, not an attack on certain cultures or beliefs. When requirements to attend school are racist, sexist, and close-minded, it negatively affects people’s education and prevents positive change. Discussion on why these things are found offensive is a better solution than banning them all together.