It’s normal for young people to use clothing, hairstyles and other aspects of their appearance to express who they are and what they believe. It’s all part of growing up and figuring out one’s identity.
That’s why ACLU of WV commends the Kanawha County Board of Education for proposing a laxer student dress code. Harsh dress codes infringe on students’ First Amendment rights and often result in discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and political affiliation.
When it upheld the rights of high school students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War in the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the U.S. Supreme Court made it very clear: “Students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
And yet, in the five decades since that decision, school districts have continued to adopt policies that stifle freedom of speech of students and the 14th Amendment rights of parents to raise their children as they choose.
Government actors need not be in the business of micromanaging how individuals express themselves. Although the proposed policy would still leave some discretion up to principals, we applaud any move that loosens the reins on protected speech.
Many school districts have claimed that dress codes reduce bullying based on socioeconomic status, but we don’t need to deny students fundamental rights in order to protect them. School officials should instead foster environments that welcome all young people.
ACLU of West Virginia continues to stand with students and their rights to express themselves both inside and outside the schoolhouse gate. And we stand ready to defend any student facing discrimination or being denied an education simply for exercising their constitutional rights.
We encourage all of our supporters to tell the school board they’re doing the right thing by sending a quick comment to firstname.lastname@example.org
The proposed policy can be found here: http://kcs.kana.k12.wv.us/Uploads/Documents/54/J36_-_Student_Dress_Policy%20Revisions%20v1.pdf