Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW

Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Do School Dress Codes Violate a Right to Youth Expression?

The recent news coverage of a Utah 9th grader who was banned from school for two days because her red hair coloring (which was all natural tones by the way) didn’t meet the school’s natural colors only hair code got me thinking. Are school dress codes violations of expression to some respect?

I personally can understand codes against things that can make youth too sexualized or which might appear as vulgar such as short skirts, low cut shirts, low resting pants that show your boxers, clothing with vulgar words etc. because there is a rational behind that. However, when laws prohibit make up colors, particular styles of clothing (i.e.: gothic), or hair colors which are otherwise not harmful to others  are they eliminating an essential part of youth expression and experimentation? You might call me a bit untraditional but I would say yes.

Distraction in and of itself is often viewed as a reason to ban things in schools but while a particular style might be distracting, is it worth banning for that reason alone? This is my eyes eliminates an essential form of finding one’s ‘place’ in the world, and styles are a visual representation of the variety that exists and a way of fitting in with the group you feel most comfortable with. But this visual representation could also be the basis on which bullying or worse, between groups starts. It could become easier to label someone as part of a particular group if they look a particular way and I can see how schools might want to ban such things are unnatural hair colors to possibly stymie such behavior.

But isn’t that expression often something many do to show that they are not your typical cookie? It is their own way of identifying is it not, and I personally think that should be respected when it isn’t hurting, sexualizing, or insulting another.

These are just my own personal views based on my experiences. I don’t have any children to base my experiences off of. Now I will admit that I never quite went against my school’s dress code in high school, although I wasn’t quite traditional in style. I will also admit that my hair has been every natural and unnatural shade available in dye form except green (but those were in my college years), so I suppose with this example I am a bit biased.

Honestly, where a school or a society draws a line between banning something is an interesting concept, of which everyone likely has their own opinion based on experiences. I would like to know more about the schools experiences with hair color, or the type of background in the community. Some schools on long island prohibit bandanas due to gang involvement and that I can understand, so perhaps there is something behind this hair color decision as well that goes deeper than what I’ve suggested.

I don’t really think there is a right or wrong answer here but  if my school wanted to ban me from my education because of my hair color they would have had a problem on there hands.

Written By Georgianna Reilly, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer

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