Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

When school clothes lead to suspension

By Ann Hoevel, CNN
updated 2:11 PM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
Eighth-grader Chloe Rubiano of Ramay Junior High in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was asked to change out of a shirt that read "Virginity Rocks." The school's superintendent said references to sexuality on clothing are inappropriate for school. Chloe's mother wrote in a post on Facebook: "Virginity is not a dirty word. Wouldn't it be great if it weren't treated as such?" Eighth-grader Chloe Rubiano of Ramay Junior High in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was asked to change out of a shirt that read "Virginity Rocks." The school's superintendent said references to sexuality on clothing are inappropriate for school. Chloe's mother wrote in a post on Facebook: "Virginity is not a dirty word. Wouldn't it be great if it weren't treated as such?"
HIDE CAPTION
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
Style that gets students in trouble
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Principal: Schools strive to balance education, individuality with dress codes
  • No states have laws that mandate specific dress codes
  • Many parents realize when their kids are violating school dress policies, principal says

(CNN) -- It begins again with every new school year: A student heads to class with a certain T-shirt, a wild hairdo or a new pair of shorts and soon, the phone rings.

Principal G. A. Buie, from Eudora High School in Eudora, Kansas, thinks a lot of parents know what's coming.

"I can't tell you how many times I have called a parent and said, 'Hey, I just want to let you know that I've talked to your son or daughter today and their clothing is inappropriate' for one reason or the other, and the parent says, 'Well I told them when they left the house they were gonna get in trouble,' " Buie said.

School dress codes are nothing new, but from school to school, district to district, state to state, the guidelines are different, and changing. It seems that students and parents -- no matter how well meaning -- challenge the rulebooks time and again.

A Colorado third-grader was suspended after shaving her head to show support for a friend battling cancer, because she'd violated her school's dress code banning shaved heads. Her parents expected the school to make an exception for such a brave display of sympathy.

In 2010, schools around the country banned bracelets that read "I heart boobies." The bracelets were made by nonprofit Keep a Breast Foundation as a light-hearted way to increase breast cancer awareness among young people. In Easton, Pennsylvania, two middle school students were suspended for wearing them, the ACLU of Pennsylvania said, because the school said they could be interpreted as lewd.

In July 2013, a federal appeals court said a Pennsylvania school district couldn't enforce its ban on the bracelets -- they're protected speech because they show support for a national breast-cancer awareness campaign, and don't disrupt school activities.

No state legislatures or education departments mandate uniforms or specific dress codes, according to the Education Commission of the States, an organization that provides nonpartisan information about education policy for state leaders. Still, 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed policies that authorize districts or schools to require uniforms and other laws influence dress codes.

Share your story: How do you personalize your school uniform?

In 2011, Arkansas passed a law that requires districts to prohibit clothes that expose underwear, buttocks or female students' breasts. A California law requires schools allow students to wear hats while outdoors during the school day. Several states require districts to allow parents and staff to weigh in on what school uniforms should be.

"Student appearance, the courts said, can be regulated if it is vulgar, indecent, obscene, insulting or if it carries a message that encourages inappropriate behavior," according to the Education Commission of the States.

School policies are typically regulated by community standards, said Buie, the president-elect of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Policies that some might see as overly conservative, or even antiquated, can stay on the books for a long time. The old rules don't always work when large school systems grow, combining multiple communities into one district, Buie said, or as families move around, bringing new ideas about what's normal or appropriate.

In some cases, the rules are updated to suit changing norms.

'It wasn't offensive'

Last year, 5-year-old Cooper Barton was told to turn his University of Michigan T-shirt inside-out because it violated school rules. The dress code in Oklahoma City's public schools said students may only wear shirts from Oklahoma colleges and universities. The 2005 policy was put into place to deter gang activity.

"He was a little embarrassed," his mother, Shannon Barton, told CNN affiliate KWTV. "It wasn't offensive. You know, he's 5."

The Oklahoma City school board changed its dress code as a result of the Barton's complaints, KWTV reported, and the Barton family was gifted with tickets to a Michigan football game.

READ: Why some parents dread back-to-school shopping

In almost any school, there are a few things that are likely to guarantee a student a trip to the principal's office, Buie said. Most schools ban clothes that advertise drugs and alcohol, Buie said. Shirts bearing an Einstein anti-war quote and the NRA logo and a machine gun have gotten students in trouble in recent years.

But often times, it's not the crazy shirt, outrageous hairdo or visible tattoo that gets a student in trouble, Buie said. Rather, it's that they don't change the behavior they've been asked to correct.

"I've never been around a school that didn't give a student the opportunity to put on a shirt that's appropriate," he said.

An attitude of defiance and "What are they going to do to me, anyway?" is what leads to trouble.

"They know the policies, they know the rules, but they choose to do it anyway," Buie said.

'A singular goal -- to create a safe environment'

The American Civil Liberties Union says the Supreme Court has affirmed students' rights to express their opinions, as long as they don't "materially and substantially" disrupt classes or other school activities. But it warns on its website that it won't always win a dress code debate: "If you think your school's dress codes and hair codes are unfair and you want to challenge them, be aware that a court probably won't overturn the codes unless the judge finds that they're really unreasonable, or that they're discriminatory."

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Many school districts say dress codes are a matter of order and safety -- and nobody is exempt.

In 2011 in Fremont, Nebraska, sixth-grader Elizabeth Carey was told she couldn't wear her rosary to school because it violated the school's dress code. She said it was an expression of her faith. Steve Sexton, Fremont's superintendent of schools, said local gangs were using rosaries as a symbol of gang affiliation.

"There are those who want to make this an issue about religion when it's about a singular goal -- to create a safe environment for our students," Sexton told CNN affiliate KETV.

Her parents said they were floored. Elizabeth said she wouldn't stop wearing the cross in necklaces or on her clothes.

Wouldn't any parent be upset about their child being punished for wearing a rosary, or dying his hair pink in support of breast cancer research?

Buie said there are plenty of times when a call home to parents results in the recitation of the First Amendment. It's a relatively new challenge for educators, he said.

"Now we have parents that are more likely to support and defend their children as being the ones that are correct," he said. "If we've done something wrong, (parents) are going to come to us and let us know that we need to change or look at doing something differently --15, 20 years ago, that wasn't the case."

Explaining the dress code and why a child was told to change, leave school or even face suspension doesn't stop parents from being offended when their kids are punished, Buie said, or from glaring when he sees them at the grocery store.

While students have the right to free speech, it's the school's job to teach children that they can't infringe on someone else's rights, he said.

"Those are things that are taught in schools," he said, "accepting differences."

What styles would lead to discipline from your school? Do you know the dress code? Share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @CNNschools or on Facebook at CNN Living.

CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:38 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Not knowing exactly where her ancestors come from has always bothered Kelly Wallace, but she's heartened to learn about some of the famous cousins she never knew she had.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Many superstar athletes from Michael Vick to Tiger Woods were ultimately forgiven by fans and the public. Could Ray Rice also get a second chance?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
The indictment of NFL star Adrian Peterson on child abuse charges has revealed sharp differences in cultural, regional and generational attitudes toward using physical force to discipline kids.
updated 9:24 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
cara reedy
The world often treats little people like Cara Reedy as less than human. She's learned to stand up for herself and shout back.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
The unheard voices of domestic abuse spoke up on CNN iReport when Rihanna's story of abuse came to light. In light of the Ray Rice controversy, we decided to bring back these stories that are still just as powerful as the day they were told.
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
More than 3 million children witness domestic violence every year, and the damage can last a lifetime.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
As media outlets Monday circulated video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator, many wondered why the woman -- now his wife -- could remain with him.
updated 12:52 PM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
The ways mother-daughter book clubs can help empower girls are the focus of a new book, "Her Next Chapter."
updated 9:44 AM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
Colleges are working to prevent sexual assault by educating students on affirmative consent, or only "yes means yes."
updated 10:43 AM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
A mom questions if she wants her daughters seeing a "sado-masochistic relationship, dressed up as a Hollywood love fantasy?"
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
In 2014, why is society still so incredibly uncomfortable with public breastfeeding? Kelly Wallace gets to the root of the controversy.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Seven years ago, Barbara Theodosiou, then a successful entrepreneur, stopped going to meetings, leaving the house and taking care of herself. She grew increasingly distraught -- her two children were addicts.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, throws America's problem with talking about race into sharp relief.
updated 10:25 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Mo'ne Davis is the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series. She's an inspiration, but will she change the face of the sport?
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
There is a reason why when people post pictures of themselves during their middle school years on Facebook for "Throw Back Thursday," we all stop and take notice.
It could cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise your child -- and that's not even including college costs, according to new government estimates.
updated 12:09 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
From parent to son, uncle to nephew, there's a raw, private conversation being revived in America in the wake of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Children sometimes get left out of our conversations about mental illness. The truth is, they suffer too.
updated 5:14 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
CNN's Kat Kinsman says that talking freely about personal mental health and suicidal thoughts can help others.
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
morning person
Easy tips on how to improve everything from your dinner order to the song in your head to your career.
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
The case of an Arizona mom who left her kids in a car during a job interview highlights the fluid line between bad parenting and criminal behavior.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A children's book about gun rights has benefited from an unexpected boost in sales after it became the subject of a mocking segment on a talk show.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Some campers and counselors keep the campfire flames burning with summer flings that become lifetime commitments.
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.
updated 3:16 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, who lost her son in a hot car, hopes mandatory technology in cars and car seats will stop child death from heatstroke in cars.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Not to mention your jeans, bras and pillows? Here's a definitive guide to keeping all your quarters clean.
Imagination Playgrounds have snaking tunnels, platforms and springy mats just like any other playground. But they're different in one fundamental way -- they're built by kids.
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Grammy Award-winning singer Sarah McLachlan, a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls, talks about parenting, sex and whether women can have it all.
updated 7:54 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain.
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
The case of a South Carolina mother arrested for allegedly leaving her 9-year-old daughter at a park while she was working sparks debate over how young is too young to leave a child alone.
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
CNN's Kelly Wallace reveals 5 common parenting mistakes that many parents admit to making.
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Is it a bad idea for parents to let kids drink underage at home, or does an early sip make drinking less taboo? Studies are divided on the subject, which is a tough nut for parents to crack.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cellphones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT