Anthony J. Scibetta
Spring 2007
Advanced Legal Research

The First Amendment: Student Dress Codes:


  A. Search Terms  
  A. Websites  
  B. Textbooks & Treatises  
  C. Journal Articles  
  D. Legal Encyclopedias  
  E. American Law Reports  

I. Historical Introduction

In 1968, a group of adults and students in Des Moines, Iowa, wore black armbands to school to publicize their objections to the hostilities in Vietnam. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 504 (1969). The students wore these armbands despite the fact that school authorities a few days earlier had adopted a policy that any student wearing an armband to school would be asked to remove it, and if he refused would be suspended until he returned without the armband. Id. at 504. The students were suspended and brought suit. Id. at 504. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the students and stated, “in order for the state in the person of school officials to justify prohibition of a particular expression of opinion, a student must engage in a forbidden conduct that would ‘materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operations of the school.’” Id. at 509.

The Tinker exception was further expanded in Bethel School District v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986). In Fraser, a student delivered a sexually explicit and graphic nominating speech to 600 students. Id. at 677. Expanding Tinker, the Supreme Court held that it is appropriate for a school to disassociate itself from speech that is vulgar, lewd, and wholly inconsistent with the fundamental values of public school education. Id. at 685.

These exceptions were further broadened in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988). This case concerned the extent to which educators may exercise editorial control over the contents of a high school newspaper produced as part of the school’s journalism curriculum. Id. at 262. The Supreme Court held that educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns. Id. at 273.

Today, Courts review the facts of a particular dress code punishment and determine whether or not the student violation rises to the level of material and substantial, vulgar and lewd, and/or is school sponsored speech in which school officials are entitled to exercise greater control.


II. Landmark Cases

A. Search Terms:

Keyword Search: Topic and Key Number Search: West Law Terms and Connectors Search:
Public school, students, First Amendment, freedom of speech, dress code, rules and regulations, violations, dress code violation. 92k90(2) “Press,” “Speech” and “Freedom” Defined. first /s amend! student!  Search terms produce 35 results including Tinker, Fraser, and Hazelwood.
  345K169 Control of Pupils and Discipline in General. first /s amend! student! /p dress /s code! Search terms produce 4 results.
  92K90.1(1.4) Schools and Colleges, Regulations; Student Publications.  
  92K278.5(6) Discipline, Suspension, or Expulsion.  

III. Secondary Resources

A. Websites:

II. Text Books & Treatises:

III. Journal Articles:

IV. Legal Encyclopedias:

V. American Law Reports:

IV. Conclusion

In sum, school dress codes have long been controversial. Since Mary Beth Tinker entered her school wearing a black armband in protest, the Court has struggled with balancing the interests of students and those interests that are meant to be protected in a classroom environment. The Tinker trilogy remains the law; however, the Supreme Court docket continues to remain filled with challenges to these existing laws.