School dress codes can be real head-scratchers. Rules regarding “acceptable” clothing can be pretty arcane. How “tight” is too tight? Why is a shirt OK on one student’s body but not on another’s? Which teacher is going to have a problem with which pants? Parents and kids need a map and a crystal ball to figure out all the rules. Even when the rules appear logical, like a blanket ban on any clothing that promotes or encourages violence, the enforcement can be perplexing, and we wind up with kids being sent to the principal for wearing Star Wars T-shirts.
According to Yahoo Parenting, the Force is not strong at George Junior High in Rosenberg, Texas, where last week seventh grader Colton Southern was reportedly ordered by school officials to cover up his totally sweet Star Wars T-shirt last Thursday.
Southern’s shirt had the logo of Star Wars: The Force Awakens–which opens this week on Friday, or very late on Thursday night, for those of us who already have plans to be in line at that hour–and it depicted a blaster-wielding Stormtrooper. Southern says he has worn the shirt to school before without incident, but last week school officials noticed and told him to cover it up.
School officials cited the dress code for Southern’s school district, which specifies that “symbols oriented toward violence” are potential dress code violations.
Whether or not the Stormtrooper constitutes a “symbol oriented towards violence” is debatable. It is a Stormtrooper, after all, it’s not like he’s going to hit anything.
Officials at Southern’s school says he was not punished or reprimanded. Dress code violations could be punished by making a student change clothes or even by levying an in-school suspension, but the school just told him to zip his jacket up over the Stormtrooper and everything would be fine.
Not so for Southern’s father, however, who told KTRK News that as far as he is concerned, telling his son to zip up his jacket is a violation of the First Amendment.
“It’s political correctness run amok,” said Joe Southern. “You’re talking about a Star Wars T-shirt, a week before the biggest movie of the year comes out. It has nothing to do with guns or making a stand. It’s just a Star Wars shirt.”
Rules banning calls to violence or threatening imagery from students’ clothes are some of the more sensible dress code requirements–certainly more so than ones that require teachers to hold tape measures up to girls’ knees–but a Stormtrooper hardly promotes violence. A similar rule was in the news earlier this year when a little girl was reprimanded for carrying a Wonder Woman lunchbox on the grounds that superheroes solved problems with violence and thus were “violent characters.”
Dress codes need to be clear, easily understandable, and evenly enforced, but focusing too much on what kids are wearing to school leads to teachers and administrators wasting time on silly things like monitoring kids’ outfits, debating whether or not Stormtroopers or Wonder Woman are “violent,” and explaining dress code rulings to the media when parents get upset.