Safety and Security in a School Environment: The Role of Dress Code Policies

Article excerpt

This study examined high school student handbooks for evidence that school administrators consider dress codes as one strategy to address the physical and psychological security of students. Physical security refers to freedom from actual harm to the body. Psychological security refers to freedom from implied threats to personal well-being. Content analysis of 80 online handbooks revealed 84% related dress codes to safety. Codes were intermediate restrictive and proscriptive, with one required dress item and multiple prohibited dress items. Family and consumer sciences professionals can play an important role in clarifying item specific dress codes related to the physical and psychological security of students.

One policy issue in education is whether dress codes should be used as a strategy for addressing violence in public schools (Paliokas, 2005). Some students feel unsafe in schools and may stay home or skip classes because of intimidation or fear of bodily harm (Volokh & Snell, 1998). "Not only are students bringing knives, guns, and explosives to schools to threaten, scare, and harm others, but incidentally students are bringing in these weapons for protection" (Cohen, 2000, p. 306). High-profile school shootings in the last decade have motivated school officials to focus attention on safety and security of the educational environment. However, "everyday school violence is more predictable than the sensational incidents that get widespread media attention, because everyday school violence is caused at least in part by educational policies and procedures governing schools and by how those policies are implemented in individual schools" (Volokh & Snell, 1998, p. 16). According to the National School Boards Association (1993), 41 percent of schools responding to a survey used dress code policies as one strategy to address school violence. This study examined student handbooks for evidence that schools consider dress codes as one strategy to address the physical and psychological security of the school population.

CONCEPTUAL DEFINITION OF VARIABLES

"School violence is a broad term, which includes, but is not limited to, assault (with or without weapons), threats of force, bomb threats, sexual assault, bullying or intimidation, arson, extortion, theft, hazing, and gang activity" (Volokh & Snell, 1998, p. 3). This definition of school violence included two types of violence-actual and implied. For purposes of this study, security is defined in relation to these two types of violence. Physical security refers to freedom from actual harm to the body. Harm may result from violence or the use of force by one person against another, for example, biting, bullying, choking, fighting, grabbing, hitting, kicking, poking, punching, pushing, slapping, or assault with a weapon such as a gun, knife, or other.

Psychological security refers to freedom from implied threats to personal well-being which is threatened by disruptive behavior including harassing, disturbing, or anger-provoking behavior primarily of a verbal nature (Bachman & Schulenberg, 1993). Implied threats include messages of fear and intimidation such as verbal taunts, verbal or gestural threats, profane language, obscene gestures, or exposure to messages that display "offensive or obscene symbols, signs, slogans, or words degrading any gender, cultural, religious, or ethnic values; or contain language or symbols oriented toward violence, vandalism, sex, drugs, alcohol, or tobacco" (National School Boards Association, 1993, p. 28).

DRESS CODES

Dress codes vary along a continuum of restrictiveness from Low-no dress code policy at all to High-a mandatory uniform policy without an opt-out provision (Paliokas, 2005). Intermediate levels of restrictiveness include a general dress code that outlines broad principles, an itemized dress code, voluntary uniforms, or mandatory uniforms with an opt-out provision. There is no guarantee that dress codes will be effective as a deterrent to school violence but that is true of other security measures (e. …