The use of school uniforms dress code in the U.S. started in the early 1900’s for parochial and private schools (Meleen, n.d.). In 1969, the US Supreme Court made a decision that both uniform proponents and opponents used to support their arguments.
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Specifically, in Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School case, students in the Des Moines public schools were suspended for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War (Pulliam & VanPatten, 2013, p. 318). Therefore, the Court considered whether a school policy banning the wearing of armbands by students in protest of the Vietnam War violated the students’ freedom of expression. For this case, the Court ruled 7-2 that schools could not restrain students’ freedom of expression as long as the students’ choices were “not disruptive and did not impinge upon the rights of others (Background of the Issue – School Uniforms, 2018).
Specifically, public school administrators may only regulate expression when there is evidence that the regulations are “necessary to avoid material and substantial interference with schoolwork or discipline (Wilson, 1998). the actual wording of a dress code can be significant to the court in determining its legality (Wilson, 1998). If the Court interprets the wording of the rule to inhibit behaviors that are considered disruptive or interfering with the educational process or threaten the safety of other students, the school administrators’ decision will be given great support. However, if the regulation is meant to express a school’s prejudice that is not related to the educational mission of the school, the Court is unlikely to defend such a regulation.
Therefore, the Supreme Court agreed with the students and held that they had been suspended in violation of their rights. The Court found that First Amendment rights applied in all situations in which students seeked to freely express themselves on the school campus, whether in the cafeteria, in hallways, or during extra-curricular activities (Wilson, 1998). As a result, school uniform opponents later depended on this decision to reason that students’ choice of what to wear is protected by the Free Speech Clause in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. On the other hand, school uniform proponents cite a passage in Tinker case’s majority opinion that states, The problem posed by the present case does not relate to regulation of the length of skirts or the type of clothing (Background of the Issue – School Uniforms, 2018).
In 1987, the first US public schools known to implement uniform policies were in Maryland and Washington, DC, with Cherry Hill Elementary School in Baltimore, MD (Background of the Issue – School Uniforms, 2018). In fact, the origin of the uniform policy in Baltimore has been linked to a 1986 shooting,
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