Ill. Bill Clarifies Authority To Institute Dress Codes

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Legislation that would give Illinois school districts formal authority to force students to wear uniforms to school has prompted complaints from the state office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The bill was approved overwhelmingly by the House on May 3 and sent to the Senate.

It essentially would clarify existing state laws on school districts' authority to institute dress codes, said Representative Monique D. Davis, sponsor of the measure.

Under the provisions of the legislation, parents or school officials4who wanted their district to require uniforms could bring the matter up with the local school board, which would then be required to discuss it and vote on it.

State aclu officials, however, said the measure could lead to violations of students' First Amendment rights under the Constitution.

"We're troubled by it," said Benjamin Wolf, a lawyer for the state civil-liberties group. "We think it's unnecessary routinization, and it places unnecessary restriction on a student's ability to express himself the way he wants or the way his parents want."

But Ms. Davis, a Chicago Democrat, said the measure is necessary because few school districts are aware they can mandate dress codes. She contends that requiring uniforms would help improve school discipline, reduce the emphasis on materialism, and prevent poor students from feeling inferior to wealthier classmates.

"It appears to many people that lack of some kind of direction in schools has led to an environmental tone that is harmful to education and learning," she said. "Children should not go to school coveting what others have on."

Ms. Davis said she decided to sponsor the bill last year after a Chicago high-school student was fatally shot by a classmate who wanted his expensive jacket.

But Mr. Wolfe said school-uniform requirements were merely "a Band-Aid remedy" to the deeper societal problems at the root of that kind of tragic incident.

For now, he said, the aclu plans to take no action against the legislation.

Ms. Davis said she expects the measure to be approved easily in the Senate.--dv

Vol. 09, Issue 34

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