School Dress Codes-The Right To Opt Out Of Uniform Requirements


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Last Updated on August 19, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995

Does your child’s school have a dress code or uniform requirement for students?  What can and cannot be opted out of by parents and what must be followed?
 
student dress code

What is or is not in violation of a student dress code may be confusing

Trouble Caused by Dress Codes
 
Have you seen parents come to blows over a school dress code?  In the video at the end of this blog, a parent allegedly punched and injured an elementary school principal in Stockton, California.  
 
According to the individuals interviewed in the Fox 40 (KTXLvideo, this was because of a t-shirt the student wore to school to which the Principal objected.  Apparently the parent thought her son was facing discrimination as he was being targeted based on the student’s race.  
 
It is not a great idea to punch an elementary, middle or high school principal or school staff over dress codes, even if a parent thinks they are being unfairly enforced or are too vague.
 
What Can a School Dress Code Include?
 
Per California Education Code section 35183, schools are given the legal authority to implement a student dress code.   
 
Schools may also impose a requirement that students wear a uniform to school.  If a school chooses to go the uniform route, they are to provide no less than six months notice of the proposed change.  They are also to provide some sort of means by which low income families can afford the uniforms.
 
opting out uniform requirements

Uniform requirements may be opted out of by students

How to Opt Out of a Uniform Requirement 
 
If a family does not want to have the student wear a uniform they may “opt out” of the uniform requirement.  How they do this is not specified in the law, but a school district is required to outline how a parent may opt out in their board policies.  
 
A student cannot be penalized in any way for not participating in the uniform requirement.
 
Gang Related Apparel May Be Prohibited at School 
 
The school or district may also prohibit “gang-related apparel,” but is required, per Education Code 32282, to define just what “gang-related apparel” is in their comprehensive school safety plan.  
 
Per section 32282:  
 
The definition [of gang related apparel] shall be limited to apparel that, if worn or displayed on a school campus, reasonably could be determined to threaten the health and safety of the school environment.
 
No Right to Opt Out of Dress Code
 
If a parent has a concern over the dress code, they may want to make a complaint to the school or school district if there is a basis, such as the student dress code being unclear, or being enforced at school in a discriminatory way. 
 
Although there is a right to opt out of uniform requirements, there is no right to opt out of a dress code.
student dress codes vague
Vague dress codes can cause confusion over what is covered and what is not for students
Issues with Vague Dress Codes
 
Issues arise in schools when dress codes are vague, unclear, or overbroad (cover too much).  If there is a vague student dress code, parents and students have a hard time complying and may be punished for things that should be allowed.  It can create a great deal of confusion. 
 
For example, if a dress code said “no scary pictures on clothes,” what does this mean?  What is “scary?”  This vagueness can be challenged, as it will inevitably lead to students being punished for things which they have every right to wear, such as a growling dog picture, or a picture of a skeleton.  
 
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Don’t Be This Mom
 
I remember one mother who allegedly punched a school administrator due to a dispute over the school dress code.  That is not how dress code issues should be handled.  Dress codes cannot be opted out of, and are different from uniform requirements.  
 

Michelle Ball is a Sacramento student attorney who assists parents and students with dress code and uniform issues and opt outs, discrimination problems, expulsions, special education and many more school issues. As an education lawyer, Michelle Ball helps families throughout California, including in Stockton, Tahoe, Redding, Sausalito, Santa Barbara, Fresno and many other CA cities.

Originally published August 31, 2011

1 thought on “School Dress Codes-The Right To Opt Out Of Uniform Requirements”

  1. Unknown says:

    Michelle, do you have any idea how the uniform debate plays out in the context of a CA Charter School? Are they required to offer a clear opt-out just as CA public schools must? My understanding is that they are independent of most of the ED code and therefore 35183 doesn't directly apply, but since it's ultimately an issue of free speech and expression it seems they'd be foolish not to at least comply with the same standards.

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