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Educators' Dress Code Study
One of the hottest topics in many public school districts these days is whether or not to have dress codes. Recent research at Sam Houston State University offers some evidence for both sides of an argument often marked only by emotion and opinion.
The research was conducted by Jimmy Creel and Angela Stallings, while completing work on their doctorates in education in SHSU's Center for Research and Doctoral Studies in Educational Leadership. Both were awarded their degrees in August, 2000.
Creel studied the impact of dress codes on black students in a Houston area suburban school district, while Stallings concentrated on Hispanic students. Creel now works as superintendent of the Port Neches-Groves school district. Stallings is an assistant principal in the Pasadena district.
"Our studies suggested that the implementation of a standardized dress code had no significant impact on the improvement of TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills) scores among the targeted populations," said Stallings. "However, we did identify a number of peripheral benefits that could very well have dramatic impacts on the school environment."
Stallings also noted that the studies on academic achievement were done in the first year of implementation of a standardized dress code.
"It is possible, based on our findings, that the benefits of a standardized dress code implemented and maintained over time may very well have a positive effect on student achievement," she said.
Creel said their study showed a number of positive benefits, including "improved campus morale and reduced discipline violations, increased school pride, improved collaboration and teamwork among students...
Also, "enhanced image of students and the school in the community, minimization of the effects of economic variations among students, and reduction in the overall cost of student wardrobes."
Midland, Midlothian, Granbury, Abilene, Espanola and Huntsville are a few of the districts in Texas that have recently considered changes in dress regulations for students. Issues raised included student discipline, First Amendment rights, individuality and creativity, and the responsibility of the school district to maintain a safe, protective environment for learning versus the desire of individual students and parents to make their own decisions regarding dress.
Creel and Stallings found that even though there have been and will likely continue to be legal challenges to the implementation of dress codes, schools in Texas enjoy fairly significant court support from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"This court has ruled consistently in favor of school dress codes as long as the dress code policy includes a well-stated rationale related to a pedagogical purpose," said Stallings. In a recent case in Louisiana, the court upheld a policy requiring students to wear uniforms.
And although Texas law allows parents with religious or philosophical objections to "opt out" of the uniform requirement or to transfer their children to another school, the court's decision essentially upheld a school district dress code without an "opt out" provision.
The court observed that "clothing is infused with intentional expression on many levels, and that clothes can symbolize ethnic heritage, political views or religious beliefs." It cautioned that a student's clothing choice will be protected as "free speech" in some instances.
"However, in this case, the court found that the school board's goal of an improved learning environment was sufficient justification to enact the uniform policy," said Creel.
Dress code policies under the Fifth Circuit jurisdiction are generally required to have a rationale, said Stallings and Creel. Some of the most common offered are: (1) more effective climate for learning; (2) improved safety and security; (3) school unity and pride; and (4) decreased gang-related problems.
Stallings and Creel said that administrators at schools where standardized dress code or uniform policies have been enacted have some advice for those who may be contemplating such policies--begin planning early and include input from all concerned in the discussion and debate.
"Dress code policies that are supported by a critical mass of students and parents are much more likely to survive the almost certain opposition that will materialize when the policy is implemented," said Stallings.
The Sam Houston State University graduates have some advice of their own--consider empirical data such as that developed in their study in addition to the emotional opinions and observations of students, teachers, parents and administrators.
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