The Legislation, Rules, & Policies Committee of the Milwaukee Public School district is considering a policy to require school uniforms in all MPS schools. In response to the announcement, the ACLU of Wisconsin issues the following statement. It is attributable to ACLU of Wisconsin Interim Executive Director Molly Collins.
“As young people grow and develop their identities, they often use clothing as a way to express who they are and what they believe. This can be through a political T-shirt or a religious item such as a headscarf.
In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), the court upheld the free speech rights of students to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War, explaining that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
Allowing students to choose what they wear sends an empowering message - that a student is a maturing person who is entitled to the most basic self-determination. Students should be imbued with a sense of individual self-worth rather than be treated as identical units, without options. So long as student dress choices do not disrupt the classroom, schools should be nurturing, rather than standardizing, student expression.
It does not make sense for MPS to implement strict uniform standards and punish students who do not comply. We have heard that students at Bradley Tech – which does have a school uniform policy - are receiving in-school suspensions for not complying with the dress code – for example, just for wearing jeans. This not only seems to send the message that what students wear is more important than whether they learn, but also could be a step towards exacerbating the school to prison pipeline.”