August 07, 2007

School uniforms, dress codes

USA Today reports on parents who're suing to allow their kiddies to wear what they wish to [public] school:

Parents Laura and Scott Bell filed suit over an Anderson, Ind., uniform plan that will begin when students return to school Aug. 20. A hearing was scheduled today in federal court in Indianapolis.

The Anderson policy requires black, navy or khaki pants or skirts and a solid-color shirt with a collar.

"As a parent, we felt our rights were being violated," says Laura Bell. They have five children, ages 5 to 17.

The Bells' suit makes two claims: that the uniform requirement violates their children's constitutional right of free expression and that it violates the guarantee of a free public education. The Bells would have to pay $641 for five sets of pants and shirts required by the policy, Laura Bell says.

My knee-jerk reaction to this sort of toplofty attitude is one of disdain. And in this case, that reaction holds. Thankfully, the track record of such suits in favor of such plaintiffs is not good:

Most lawsuits against school uniforms fail, says David Hudson, a First Amendment scholar at the First Amendment Center in Nashville. Judges usually decide that uniform policies are meant to improve schools and not to suppress student speech, he says.

Did the Bells ever complain about the cost of buying notebooks and other school supplies -- based on their aforementioned "guarantee of free public education"? Would the Bells have a problem with girls wearing skintight high shorts in warmer months with revealing halter tops? What about boys wearing their jeans down around their knees while their boxers protrude prominently?

Our school's dress code isn't as strict as Anderson's. We require a collared shirt OR any other type of shirt that has some sort of district/school logo on it (such as phys. ed. t-shirts). Any kind of pants are permitted as long they do not have holes or cut off areas, and are worn properly (ie, the waist not dangling around your knees). Shorts must be of knee-length (this was especially for girls), and no "revealing" tops are permitted.

The actual data on whether dress codes actually improve education and/or the school atmosphere is conflicting. I think, however, a policy such as my school's is quite sensible in that it doesn't really "stifle" what kids want to wear yet enforces a commonsensical guideline on proper manners/attire.

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Posted by Hube at August 7, 2007 12:33 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

I'm not even sure why frivolous lawsuits, such as this, are allowed to get to court. Needless to say, I do favour school uniform, not just a dress code. The latter, however, is better than a free-for-all. Heaven's...I'm not opposed to freedom of expression but given what we've seen over the years it doesn't appear that "children"...even to the age of eighteen...have a clue as to "what" is appropriate to wear "where". Then again, there are so-called adults who haven't learned this, either.

My own experience...and that of my child...is uniforms DO elicit a pride in one's school as well as in it's achievements. They are much tidier, far less expensive and helps reduce problems among/between some students going to and from school or school events by making them at least identifiable by which school they attend.

Posted by: Nancy Cleveland at August 7, 2007 01:28 PM

Huh, I remember not being allowed to wear t-shirts that advertised alcohol or tobacco products - and that included NASCAR tees depicting inappropriate sponsorship like Harry Gant's "Skoal Bandit" car. That seemed reasonable to me at the time, even though my favorite driver, Bill Elliot, was driving for Coors. Today it would be Jeff Gordon (industrial polluter Dupont) good, Earnhart Jr. (Budweiser) bad.

Posted by: G Rex at August 7, 2007 05:41 PM

She has to pay over $600 for 'appropriate clothing' she claims. I wonder what she pays now. My guess is that it's much more than the piddling $600 or so bucks she's complaining about. It seems the school dress code is going to save her some money. I've seen figures published on average expenses for 'back-to-school' to include clothing, supplies and all the entrapments students "must" have before they can once again enter those hallowed halls. I would think any parent would openly welcome a process which simplifies the yearly ritual that most parents certainly dread.

What is needed here is some cooperation among all school districts that serve a particular area. Adopt a common dress code for all students.

Posted by: Al at August 8, 2007 10:11 PM

Well first of all. Laura Bell won't be buying clothes for 5 kids, as only one of them is hers and only 2 of the other 4 are in Scott Bell's custody. Secondly, in the 21 years I have been putting children through school I have rarely if ever bought new school clothes for them at the beginning of the year.

I have complained about the school supplies I have to purchase for my kids, as well as the enrollment and book rental fees that are requested to be paid. I have complained about the lack of teaching that goes on in several of the high school classrooms, and now I'm complaining about the band-aid they are calling the uniform policy.

Most states do not require any fees to start school, though there are required school supplies that must be brought. When you consider how much they get per student per year in this state, you have to wonder why we have to pay anything. 30 kids in one classroom, $399,000 from the state per year. Those 30 kids buying lunch, $12,960, 30 kids paying an enrollment fee $1800, and let's not even talk about the cost of book rental. I have one child that has to pay $133, another that has to pay $204. There are 2 more kids paying elementary book fees and enrollment. Now add to that clothing I would not be buying, 10 pairs of bottoms, 10 tops, at least 2 new pairs of shoes, 2 belts, solid color socks. The school supplies cost me over $100 last year for just 3 kids in school. Yeah it's an unnecessary expense on top of ton's of other expenses through out the school year. I really have to wonder what all that $399,000 a year for one classroom of children pays for. Electric? Water? Teacher salary? What else? And uniforms are supposed to teach our kids what the unenforced dress code didn't. Reading, writing and arithmetic, right? My children went to school in proper attire, with the exception of sneaking out flip flops sometimes, but if the schools had enforced the dress code, my ex husband would not be fighting this now. And we might be focusing on the lack of teaching going on instead.

Posted by: Pari Ann Bell at August 9, 2007 01:48 PM

Pari: What is an "enrollment fee"? And a book rental? This is for a public school?

I've never heard of such a thing, and I've been teaching 16 years here in Delaware. Two things:

1) Why not bring suit on those fees and not the dress code?
2) From where did you derive that $399,000 figure?

Posted by: Hube at August 9, 2007 02:58 PM

"She has to pay over $600 for 'appropriate clothing' she claims. I wonder what she pays now."

Well, you can start with the $150 basketball shoes every kid seems to need...

Posted by: G Rex at August 9, 2007 05:17 PM

I can purchase 5 sets of khakis and polos on Frenchtoast.com for $100-$150 per child depending on size.

Where does this woman shop?

My kids homeschool and I still purchase uniform clothes. They give kids a more well dressed look.

Posted by: andrea at August 13, 2007 12:23 PM