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School Uniforms and the Supreme Court

Supreme Court Rulings and Effectiveness


U.S. Supreme Court Building

U.S. Supreme Court Building

Source: Whitehouse.gov. Public Domain Image.

Supreme Court Rulings

In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School (1969), the court said that a student's freedom of expression in school must be protected unless it would seriously interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline. In the dissenting opinion written by Justice Hugo Black, he said, "If the time has come when pupils of state-supported schools, ..., can defy and flout orders of school officials to keep their minds on their own schoolwork, it is the beginning of a new revolutionary era of permissiveness in this country fostered by the judiciary."

Students are still protected under Tinker. However, with an increase in school violence and gang-related activities, the political climate seems to have turned more conservative, and the Supreme Court has begun to return many decisions back to the discretion of the local school board. The issue of school uniforms itself, however, has not yet been dealt with by the Supreme Court.

Schools must educate students in a safe environment. Over time, education has often slipped away as the main focus of schools. As we have unfortunately seen, school safety is such an enormous issue that it is hard to come up with policies that truly work without turning a school into a prison camp. After the events at Columbine High School in 1999 where students were singled out partially for what they wore, and after numerous thefts and murders over designer shoes, it is obvious why many school districts want to institute uniforms. We must realize that learning cannot take place without some sense of decorum and discipline. Possibly instituting school uniforms might help bring back that sense of decorum and allow teachers to do what they are hired to do: teach.

Parent and Student Support for Uniforms

    Many schools have in fact made the choice to have students wear school uniforms. Until the Supreme Court rules otherwise, this is entirely up to the school district. However, they do still have to follow state and federal anti-discrimination laws when they make their polices.

    Following are some ideas to make the use of uniforms easier to accept by students and parents:

  • Make uniforms more casual - jeans and a knit shirt
  • Allow students an outlet for their own expression: buttons to support political candidates, but not gang related paraphernalia
  • Provide financial assistance to those parents who can not afford the uniforms
  • Accommodate students religious beliefs. This is required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • Make your program voluntary if community pressure is too large
  • Institute an 'opt-out' provision. Not including this would probably cause a court to rule against your program unless there is proof that lesser measures are ineffective.
  • Make uniforms an integral part of the school safety program.

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