Skip to Content

Dress Codes (October 2018 School Leader Update)

Dress code shaming has recently been a topic of conversation in the news.  In particular, parents and students alike are pushing back on what is perceived as rules that target female students.  Some examples of school sanctioned dress code violations included: 1) Not wearing a bra; 2) Wearing a bra with straps showing; 3) Wearing clothing that reveals shoulders or collarbones; 4) A ban on leggings; 5) Being “busty” and plus size; 6) Wearing ripped jeans . . Just to name a few.

As a friendly reminder to schools, under Iowa Code section 279.58 and In Re Mandatory Dress Code (below) school districts have the authority to impose a limited dress code on students that proscribes what students cannot wear but do not prescribe what must be worn – a uniform dress code policy. 

279.58. School dress code policies – States as follows:

1. The general assembly finds and declares that the students and the administrative and instructional staffs of Iowa's public schools have the right to be safe and secure at school. Gang-related apparel worn at school draws attention away from the school's learning environment and directs it toward thoughts or expressions of violence, bigotry, hate, and abuse.

2. The board of directors of a school district may adopt, for the district or for an individual school within the district, a dress code policy that prohibits students from wearing gang-related or other specific apparel if the board determines that the policy is necessary for the health, safety, or positive educational environment of students and staff in the school environment or for the appropriate discipline and operation of the school. Adoption and enforcement of a dress code policy is not a violation of section 280.22.

Thus, schools can restrict students from wearing gang-related or other apparel if the board determines that it is necessary for health, safety, or a positive environment.  This may include policies that restrict clothing containing offensive or hate speech. It may also include policies that prohibit clothing that are revealing of skin or undergarments.  The following dress code cases illustrate a Waterloo Community School District dress code policy that was overturned and one that was then approved by the State Board.

  1. In Re Mandatory Dress Code, 26 D.o.E. App. Dec. 56 (2010). 
  1. In Re Mandatory Dress Code, 26 D.o.E. App. Dec. 110 (2010). 

However, whether you are at a school district or nonpublic school make sure that you are applying your dress code equally across genders and not targeting any one gender for violations or you may run afoul of civil rights laws.  This seems to be the issue with many of the complaints regarding dress code shaming.  If we are only applying the rules to female students and not male students you may be inviting a visit from the Office of Civil Rights.   

Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on August 13, 2020 at 3:56pm.