As students grow and develop their identities, they often use clothing as a way to express who they are and what they believe. This can be through items like a political T-shirt or religious garb such as a headscarf.

In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), the court upheld the free speech rights of students to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War, explaining that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

But over four decades later, school districts continue to implement harsh dress codes and punish students who do not comply.

Many school districts claim stringent dress codes increase their emphasis on academics, disperse gang activity, and reduce pressures stemming from socioeconomic status. But they can also violate a student’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression and a parent’s Fourteenth Amendment right to raise their children as they choose.

In its history, the ACLU has filed several lawsuits to defend students who have been denied their right to an education based on a strict and sometimes discriminatory dress code. Our affiliates also publish brochures and pamphlets on students’ rights. The ACLU stands with students to express who they are both inside and outside of the schoolhouse gates.

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