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dress codes and hairstyles

Schools often have a dress code that requires school uniforms or that limits clothing styles—such as policies of no tank tops, shorts, low-cut tops, pants worn below the waistline, or suggestive, provocative, or controversial messages. Some schools extend these dress code policies to hairstyles, headwraps, hair color, and facial hair.

These policies are sometimes challenged by students on free speech grounds (under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) and on discrimination grounds. Schools are required to meet a high burden to justify restricting their students’ right to freedom of speech.

Each school policy and claim of a violation of law must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis but schools are generally allowed to restrict clothing, speech, and hairstyle choices only if they would likely disrupt the educational environment of the school and interfere with school activities—including by causing tension and discord among the students or teachers.

In Texas, public schools have the authority to implement dress codes, which may include the requirement of school uniforms or restrictions on certain types of clothing and hairstyles, as long as these policies do not infringe upon students' constitutional rights. The First Amendment protects students' freedom of speech, which can extend to clothing and personal appearance. However, schools can justify restrictions if they demonstrate that the prohibited styles or messages would likely cause a disruption to the educational environment or interfere with school activities. This is known as the 'substantial disruption' test, stemming from the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District case. When dress code policies are challenged on free speech or discrimination grounds, courts will weigh the school's interest in maintaining an orderly environment against the student's right to free expression. Texas schools must also ensure that dress code policies are not discriminatory on the basis of race, religion, gender, or other protected characteristics. Each case involving a challenge to a school's dress code policy is assessed individually to determine whether the school has met the required legal burden to restrict students' freedom of expression.

Legal articles related to this topic

Understanding Public School Dress Code Laws
Parents and students alike are affected by school dress code laws. While most public schools in the United States don’t require specific uniforms, virtually all schools have some form of dress code.