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A Tale Of Three Dress Codes MAG
A Tale of Three Dress Codes
by D. P., Johnston, RI
Scituate, Rhode Island is a community that admits it is failing its students. In Findlay, Ohio, "courtesy" supersedes one's rights. These, of course, are only two of the myriad school districts which have adopted more stringent policies regarding dress codes. When the powers-that-be at the Education Department in our nation's capital prioritize the problems facing America's public schools, I am certain that the "problem" of strict dress codes doesn't make the top 10.
But strict dress codes ARE a problem, and an anomaly, in that they are useful and harmful for the same reason. In attempting to cloak failures in American public schools, an imprudent move, they highlight them instead - thus unintentionally doing a great service to the public school system. Lucky for readers, I happen to have the Findlay and Scituate policies nearby - and a highlighter to boot.
Let us first examine the new Scituate policy: "No heavy coats may be worn inside the school, and no hats, either." This was devised to insure the safety of students, for weapons can easily be concealed in coats or hats, and some team logos printed on caps are now logos for some gangs. While Scituate should be praised for showing concern for its students, I think it must be noted that this is Scituate's way of admitting important that adults in the lives of students have failed to educate them sufficiently as to the dangers and pitfalls of weapons and gangs.
Let us now delve into the Findlay policy. Hats are not allowed at Findlay High, either. Why? The principal, Victoria Brian, feels that the removal of hats is "a courtesy that we seem to have forgotten." Isn't it nice that Miss Manners now has a second job besides her newspaper column? What Ms. Brian and the Findlay School Board seem to have forgotten is that they have absolutely no right to regulate attire based on their opinions and whims. Many courts would undoubtedly find this rule in violation of the First Amendment.
By far the strongest admissions of failure and the most blatant violations of First Amendment rights in both the Findlay and Scituate policies are in the form of "message and graphics" bans. The Scituate policy bans T-shirts that "carry messages that promote alcohol or drug use," while the Findlay policy bans "language or graphics pertaining to alcohol or tobacco."
The reasoning behind the Scituate policy, as stated by Superintendent Allen G. Brown, is as follows: "We spend thousands of dollars to prevent substance abuse, and promoting alcohol is very contrary to the message we're trying to send.
With all due respect to Mr. Brown, it seems to me that this school system is admitting failure, and is effectively conceding that students have obviously not grasped the perils of alcohol abuse. Once again, this is Scituate's (and perhaps Findlay's) way of saying, "Sorry, we failed."
Examining this ban from a legal standpoint, I cannot see how language which is not obscene can be banned. Call me a future ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] leader, but isn't that crossing the line from concern for the health and welfare of students to pure, unadulterated censorship? Absolutely. Furthermore, according to the ACLU publication, The Right of Students, "[Some courts] have ... balanced the rights of the student against the need of the school to make reasonable health and safety regulations." Consequently, a policy banning hats for fear of concealed weapons is legitimate, but a "Miss Manners" policy is illegal, as is a "message and graphics" ban. And that is the way it should be.
To be sure, not all communities feel the need to infringe on their pupils' rights. Recently, Johnston High School's student leaders were asked to revise the statement of policy regarding student attire. (Involving students in policies that directly affect them? What a novel idea!) As Student Council President, I presided over the revision. Our policy has no "bans," and is one page of RECOMMENDATIONS. The last paragraph asks that "students and parents ... use good taste and show responsibility in selecting school attire."
Does this mean that someone may enter Johnston High this year wearing a "Budweiser" shirt without fear of being disciplined? Absolutely. Might the wearing of the shirt indicate that some students are not listening to what is being taught in Johnston schools about alcohol abuse? Possibly. But such a situation will most likely make instructors work just that much harder to attempt to curb the indiscriminate use of alcohol. And it won't violate anyone's rights.
Scituate and Findlay are wearing sunglasses to keep out the rays of realism telling them that they have problems in their schools that far transcend T-shirts. One day soon those sunglasses will have to come off. After all, Scituate bans those, also.