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Should students be suspended for inappropriate dress?


I am a strong supporter of the freedom of expression, and am strongly opposed to school uniforms. However, I feel that students who dress inappropriately after knowing the dress code should be suspended.

Typically, students purposely violate the dress code to elicit a response from their peers or from others in the school community. I’ve seen students arrive at school wearing revealing clothing; T-shirts promoting sexual behavior, alcohol, and drug use; or clothing designed to offend different social groups. A student once walked into school wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a swastika. He was told to go home to find another shirt, and that refusing to do so would be insubordination, resulting in suspension.  Does anyone really think that he wore that shirt because it was the only clean one that he had at home? 
By failing to act decisively, we are sending the message that we don’t care about proper behavior, which includes proper dress.  It can lead to other, more serious behavior issues as well. Students need to learn self-control and personal responsibility, and a dress code, including the power to suspend students for violating it, can help do that.

Pernell Collett teaches social studies and public speaking at Ledford High School in Thomasville, North Carolina, and is president of the Davidson County Association of Educators.


Although teens everywhere want to wear the latest fashions and believe their dress styles should be acceptable anywhere, it is universally accepted that schools have an appropriate dress code that must be maintained. However, we need to consider carefully the manner in which we discipline students who break that code. Suspending students for dress code violations is an ineffective punishment that accomplishes nothing except disrupting student learning. 

A better approach would be to seek parental or guardian involvement. If the student is allowed to leave home inappropriately dressed, why not involve the parent and have them bring appropriate clothing to school? Parents and guardians need to be held accountable for student dress code violations. Many parents leave the house before their children, but a phone call from the school asking them to bring in appropriate clothing will certainly give parents a good reason to pay attention to their child’s wardrobe decisions and to talk about what is acceptable attire for school.

Suspension should be a last resort, coming only after other interventions have failed. After all, one of the major goals of any educational system is attendance. We want to keep students in school, not out.

Leticia Colin, a future parent of a teenage daughter, teaches AIMS language arts at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, Arizona.