A Note From The Teacher

by Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed.

Do the Clothes Make the Student? A Note about Dress Codes and Policies

teacher school kids

Every generation has clothing fads and styles that make their predecessors cringe.

From black goth wear to sideways hats to baggy jeans hanging below the belt (and lower), kids’ fashion statements often make one statement to their friends and another one to the family members and adults in their lives.

Regardless of your take on your children’s current fashion trends, you should be aware that schools are certainly taking notice of current clothing choices, and often schools have requirements for students’ dress during the school day.

Most school dress codes are designed to address the safety of students as well as the overall effect clothing can have on the school learning environment. Especially as students get older, more and more focus tends to be put on clothing requirements in order to maintain a functioning and safe environment for students.

However, even younger students’ dress is commonly being addressed in student handbooks throughout the country. Depending on the needs of your child’s specific school, as well as the needs of the overall student population, dress codes can vary widely in different areas.

Physical safety is one major area of student life that dress codes often are intended to maintain. For examples, students who participate in outdoor recess or gym may not be allowed to wear flip-flops to school to prevent injuries.

Excessively loose or baggy clothing may not be allowed onto buses, as some items can get caught when students board or leave a bus, causing a tragic accident.

Likewise, bans on wearing chain jewelry or chained wallets may serve to protect students from becoming snared by machinery in a vocational environment.

Depending on the specific needs of the school environment, clothing regulations may be very specific or somewhat looser.

Emotional safety is another area that can be addressed in some dress codes. By limiting threatening clothing or gang-related symbols, colors, or signs, for example, schools work to protect the overall student population and maintain a good learning environment.

While this is certainly important, this can be an especially gray area for school officials to control, as there is often some interpretation of clothing involved.

Determining what is threatening or vulgar is often subjective, giving rise to a number of arguments both for and against rulings of this kind.

Some schools have chosen to forego the difficulties which arise from making subjective decisions about dress code requirements and have instituted policies which adopt uniforms for students.

Though these policies are sometimes controversial, the determination regarding what is and is not appropriate as school wear is more clear-cut. Most uniform codes in public schools are made up of items which are relatively easy for families to find and afford, instead of a rigid clothing style to be ordered only through the school for a fixed cost; sometimes financial assistance is available for families who are unable to provide uniforms for their children.

In these schools, the responses of students and parents are often mixed, and research studies regarding students’ academic performance are not completely definitive, either. However, regardless of their long-term academic impact, these uniform requirements do make the dress code easier for everyone to understand.

So, as a parent, what is important to know about your child’s dress code? The most important thing a parent can do is take a few moments to read and understand the school’s dress code before making purchases of school clothes.

This is especially important in the fall and spring, when parents often find themselves shopping for one or two seasons at a time. Nothing can frustrate a parent more than getting a call from the school asking to bring a change of clothes for a student who is wearing brand new clothing that violates the dress code in some way.

If you read the dress code and have questions, don’t be afraid to ask questions before making that pricy, trendy (but maybe unacceptable) clothing purchase. Just because kids are wearing it doesn’t mean the school’s accepting it.

In addition, talk with your child about their responsibility in maintaining the dress code at school. Everyone knows of a child who has left the house in one outfit, only to get to school and change in the bathroom into another one. While this scenario can make parents white-knuckled with anger, it can also be an opportunity to teach children that they are responsible for their own actions.

Students need to know that regardless of where their clothing switch takes place, if they violate the dress code there will be consequences- at school and maybe at home, too.

Remember, school dress codes exist in order to help school officials maintain a positive and safe learning environment for all students. Though their rules and your home rules may differ, they need to work with all of their students and families of the school, so their regulations may be stricter than your own.

Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself and your child with the dress requirements of the school. By doing that now, you could be saving yourself from future clothing drama at school. Besides, vacations and weekends are a great time for showing off that funny new t-shirt… even though it just isn’t quite right for school.

 

 

Jennifer Cummings

Ms. Cummings, author, and editor of the Education and School Section, she has a B.A.in psychology and an M.Ed. in special education from Framingham State College in Massachusetts. She was an elementary teacher in Massachusetts serving both regular education and special education students. She has taught grades 1,4, and 5.

"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings.
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