Public schools throughout the country have faced heavy criticism for instituting dress codes that many perceive to be targeting girls and imposing overly restrictive requirements on their attire. Critics of public-school dress codes often take particular issue with the notion that restrictive dress codes are necessary to prevent classroom distractions. Because public schools are state actors, they must comply with constitutional requirements. Thus, when schools impose different rules on the basis of gender, those rules must comply with the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This clause mandates that the government offer an exceedingly persuasive justification for any sex-based classification. Moreover, the justification offered by the school must be genuine and may not rely on nor perpetuate gender-based stereotypes. Courts have generally accepted schools’ arguments that their dress codes served the interests of student health and safety, preventing classroom distraction, and instilling morals and discipline. This Note evaluates the application of the Equal Protection Clause to public-school dress codes, explores the various school justifications that have been deemed acceptable, and argues that, under the standard set forth in Equal Protection jurisprudence, a school’s desire to prevent classroom distraction may no longer be an acceptable defense absent authentic evidence of its necessity.
Jillian R. Friedmann, A Girl's Right to Bare Arms: An Equal Protection Analysis of Public-School Dress Codes, 60 B.C.L. Rev. 2547 (2019), https://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol60/iss8/8