Dress codes. Whether they prohibit clothing with inappropriate language or simply just shorts that are too short, nearly every school has one. But the real question is if the First Amendment grants us the right to free speech, then why do schools have a right to restrict what students can and cannot wear?
This dilemma goes all the way back to 1969, when the Tinker V. Des Moines court case took place. Prior to this event, students from a public school in Des Moines, Iowa wore black armbands to school in order to protest America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Despite being warned to take them off, the students continued to wear them. This then lead to several suspensions because the principal saw the armbands as a potential disruption in the learning environment. Following the suspensions, the parents of the students decided to sue the school for their decision because it violated their children’s right to free speech. The case was eventually taken to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled in a 7-2 decision that neither students nor teachers “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” In other words, the court decided that the students had a constitutional right to wear the armbands because they were a form of free speech. However, based on current dress codes, school authorities clearly do still have the right to prohibit student’s dress to some extent. This is where things get tricky because what are the limits?
Ultimately, it comes down to the idea that schools cannot legally restrict expression because it is unpopular or they disagree with it, but they can restrict expression if it creates a disruption of the learning environment. For example, a student is completely allowed to wear a New England Patriots shirt to school, even if the principal hates the Patriots. The First Amendment gives him that right because it does not create a disruption of the learning environment. But, on the other hand, a student does not necessarily have the right to wear a shirt with a racial slur on the front of it. Each school has their own rules, but most schools would view this sort of attire as disrespectful and inappropriate. Plus, it could offend other students and lead to a disruption of the learning environment. All in all, students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate, but these rights do not come without limitations.
” Dress Codes Vs. Free Speech: Ebscohost .” Web.b.ebscohost.com. N. p., 2019. Web. 25 Feb. 2019.
“Facts And Case Summary – Tinker V. Des Moines.” United States Courts. N. p., 2019. Web. 25 Feb. 2019.
” Free Speech At School: Ebscohost .” Web.a.ebscohost.com. N. p., 2019. Web. 26 Feb. 2019.