Dress and Appearance Codes in Public Secondary School Handbooks

By Herbon, Beth; Workman, Jane E. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Dress and Appearance Codes in Public Secondary School Handbooks


Herbon, Beth, Workman, Jane E., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


ABSTRACT

Dress and appearance codes in 154 secondary school handbooks were analyzed and compared with guidelines. Unacceptable dress and appearance was listed more frequently than acceptable or required dress. Concerns about health, safer; and modesty were reflected in the codes; 80% included a statement that "students' dress should not be a disruption to the educational process. " Many of the dress and appearance codes used vague wording. As schools enact dress and appearance codes to control student behavior, it is important to enact codes that are clear, precise, fair, and legal.

During the 1997-1998 school year, there were six mass school shootings. News reports about the incidents mentioned the perpetrators' dress. For example, in Oregon, the shooter wore a green trench coat. In Arkansas, the shooters wore camouflage clothing. In Kentucky, a student used a clothing item, a backpack, to conceal the ammunition and guns with which he assaulted his classmates (Williams, 1997). As violence in schools escalates, many school boards and administrators are examining strategies to make their schools safer. Among the practices they are examining are policies regarding student dress and appearance. For example, many schools are restricting students from wearing outerwear (coats, hats, and book bags) inside the school to discourage carrying concealed weapons and forbidding the wearing of camouflage clothing because of its association with weapons.

One goal of the study was to better define public secondary school dress and appearance codes found in student handbooks. Specifically, guidelines for dress and appearance codes were found and documented, content of dress and appearance codes in secondary school handbooks was recorded and analyzed, and, finally, the dress and appearance codes were examined for consistency with the guidelines.

Dress and appearance codes, rules and regulations backed by the authority of a school in an in loco parentis role (Majestic, 1991), become official school policy when approved by a school board (Lane and Richardson, 1992). As students are required to be notified of rules that they are expected to follow, dress and appearance codes are often included in a student handbook (Uerling, 1997).

School dress and appearance codes have a basis in the idea that dress is not only a symbol for expression of the individual self, but also a symbol of expected behavior. According to Barbarash (1995, p. 1428) "courts have justified the need to impose more stringent regulations on students by recognizing the existence of disciplinary problems and safety considerations." Dress and appearance codes are considered "critical to combating drugs, violence, gangs, and a general decline in discipline and decorum in the classroom" (Weingarten, 1991, p. 2). Opponents of dress and appearance codes as a means to control student behavior maintain that dress and behavior are unrelated, and further, that a student's clothing is not a reliable predictor of his or her behavior (Rubinstein, 1995).

School officials have the authority to regMate student appearance but regulations must be within the bounds of the Constitution and any state laws (Uerling,1997). Kuhn (1996) best summarizes legal objections to dress and appearance codes:

The appropriateness and constitutionality of student dress codes in public schools are issues which appear deceptively simple: generally, students should have the right to control their personal appearance and school administrators should be able to make rules about the educational process taking place in the schools ... Students sometimes want to wear eclectic clothes and hairstyles and insist that their constitutional rights allow their actions. Administrators, on the other band, are often convinced that any type of dress and appearance that is slightly outside the norm is disruptive to the educational process and should therefore be banned. This tension sets the stage for many legal battles (p. …

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