Why Are The Feds Getting Involved With School Dress Codes

Some students, advocates, researchers, and now a congressional watchdog agency are calling for public schools to rethink their dress codes, which are allegedly sexist, racist, and classist. After pandemic-related closures, Cobb County, Georgia; Longview, Washington; and Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, saw protests against local dress codes.

A report by the Government Accountability Office found that 93% of schools have some dress code policy, with about half requiring strict dress codes and one in five requiring uniforms. Some districts ban spaghetti strap shirts, short skirts, leggings, muscle shirts, sagging pants, or specific colors or logos on clothing. Even though these rules are often made for safety, some can endanger students’ well-being.

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How Can The Federal Government Help?

School uniform policies have long been criticized by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, but this report is the first federal call for intervention. According to GAO’s analysis, school uniform policies hurt some students and discriminate against certain cultures and religions. Children lose time learning when they are disciplined.

Do School Dress Codes Discriminate?

According to the report, Black and Hispanic students are more likely to attend schools with dress codes than their white peers, and the policies create unfair discipline policies. While dress codes are often cited as a safety measure, they may make school environments less safe and equitable for students, the report argues.

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District Dress Codes: Why Do They Exist?

Dress codes are enforced by local school leaders who believe that their enforcement fosters school equity and safety among students. Dress codes and uniforms are also argued to reduce crime, prevent bullying and prepare kids for work.

According to Britannica ProCon, uniforms became mandatory in U.S. public schools in the 1980s. A California school district mandated uniforms for elementary and middle school students in 1994 to prevent gang activity near the schools.