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Dress-Code Suspensions Are Not Fair

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Suspending children for violating their school's dress codes is an ill-advised practice and schools throughout the country should cease doing so immediately.

On May 5, The Associated Press reported that a high school in Waterbury, Connecticut, had suspended over 150 students for dress code violations. The students were called out over the loudspeakers and were told not to come to school the following day.

Following the event, the district has wiped the suspensions from all of the affected students' records. However, activists have said that the culture surrounding dress code violations within the school is problematic. Half the students at the school reportedly received at least one suspension within one year. 

While the case in Connecticut may be extreme, it does bring a pressing problem to light: the fact that suspensions for dress code violations are allowed at all. While it might seem as though such codes are conducive to a productive learning environment, there are several reasons why suspending students for dress code violations is a bad idea. 

One reason that suspensions imposed for dress code violations can be harmful is that they are disproportionately applied across racial demographics. According to Time, a 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Education found that minority students receive suspensions at a higher rate than non-minority students. 

This statistic was very clearly demonstrated by the absurdly high number of suspensions at the school in Connecticut. According to the AP, the majority of students in the district are either Hispanic or African-American. In addition, the district has also been criticized for having low numbers of minority teachers. 

Dress codes -- and therefore suspensions doled out for violating them -- are also guilty of being gender-biased. According to The Atlantic, public schools in the United States often have gender-specific dress code policies. It is frequently the case that the number of policies regarding female students' attire are disproportionately higher than the number of policies regarding male attire. For example, Arkansas' statewide dress code has policies that apply specifically to female students.

This disproportionate scrutiny obviously has the potential to be very harmful. If girls are subject to more expectations regarding their attire, it stands to reason that they will have more opportunities to violate the dress code. This, in turn, means that girls are more likely to receive disciplinary action such as suspensions. 

The final reason that school dress code suspensions should be prohibited is the most important one of all, and does not necessarily even have anything to do with dress codes. According to Time, it was reported in the April 2012 issue of the "Journal School of Violence" that suspending students does not correct behavioral issues, and often just exacerbates such issues. Therefore, even if a student was indeed dressing inappropriately, it is unlikely that suspending him or her would result in a lasting change in behavior.

With all this in mind, it becomes clear that suspensions for dress code violations are an ill-advised idea. Some students are more likely to receive these suspensions, making them unfair. In addition, these suspensions will most likely have no impact whatsoever on students' behavior. Therefore, this practice should be stopped immediately.  

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: AP via WBNS, Time, The Atlantic / Photo credit: Mamoritai​/Flickr

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