Justice with Jessica: When are dress codes too strict?

ACLU explains the ins and outs of dress code discrimination
school students
Posted at 9:01 AM, Aug 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-18 11:01:15-04

Parents across the state are in the process of sending their children back to school, which often involves shopping for new clothes.

Students, however, aren't the only ones who have to comply with dress code rules.

Schools that receive federal funding are not permitted to establish discriminatory dress codes, or dress codes that unfairly censor student expression.

"Discriminatory dress codes harm students, their families and the entire school system, and school community," ACLU Colorado Policy Counsel Cat Ordonez said. "School should be a place that students feel safe being who they are, and not a place where they feel singled out or shamed because of their gender, their race, their religion or their culture."

A public school can require students wear formal clothing at a special event, but it can't force girls to only wear dresses or boys to only wear suits, according to the ACLU.

"Schools can make reasonable dress codes that are gender neutral," Ordonez said. "So schools should make sure should go back and review their dress codes and make sure that they're not based on stereotypes about sex, about race, about ethnicity."

If schools enforce a dress code against some groups of students more than others, that may be considered discrimination.

"Schools should also train their officials who enforce the dress code on the applicable laws, federally and state laws and make sure that it's enforced evenly across all student populations," Ordonez said. "Not just against certain groups of students, like students of color or women."

According to a 2022 report from the Government Accountability Office, “school dress codes more frequently restrict items typically worn by girls. And rules about hair and head coverings can disproportionately impact Black students and those of certain religions and cultures.”

The study also found "schools that enforce strict dress codes enroll more Black or Hispanic students and are more likely to remove students from class."

Removal from the classroom can be detrimental to development and learning of those students, according to the study.

Schools are also not permitted to discriminate based on the viewpoint expressed by student clothing. All views have to be treated equally so long as they are not obscene or disruptive.

Students who do experience dress code discrimination do have options.

"A parent can make that known to the school, a parent can also make that known to the school board," Ordonez said.

If that doesn't work, a parent can enlist help from the ACLU or another civil rights organization.

Justice with Jessica: When are dress codes too strict?

D7 follow up bar 2460x400FINAL.png
The Follow Up
What do you want Denver7 to follow up on? Is there a story, topic or issue you want us to revisit? Let us know with the contact form below.