Massachusetts law about student dress codes and freedom of expression

Laws, cases, and web sources on student dress codes and freedom of expression law.

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Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.71, § 1D Discriminatory school policies or codes that prohibit hairstyles associated with race
See also the "CROWN Act" St.2022, c.117 (effective October 24, 2022).

MGL c. 71, § 82 Right of students to freedom of expression
"The right of students to freedom of expression in the public schools of the commonwealth shall not be abridged, provided that such right shall not cause any disruption or disorder within the school."

MGL c.71, § 83 Dress and appearance of students protected

Federal laws

US Constitution, 1st Amendment Free speech, press, religion

Selected cases

Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., __ US __ (2021)
The Supreme Court ruled that a school district could not punish a former cheerleader for a profanity-laced post on social media outside of school hours, but it did not completely bar schools from regulating out-of-school speech.

Pyle v. South Hadley School Committee, 423 Mass. 283 (1996)
Court held that high school students in public schools have the freedom under MGL c. 71, s. 82 to engage in non-school sponsored expression (wearing a t-shirt) reasonably considered vulgar, but which causes no disruption or disorder.

Tinker v. Des Moines Community School District, 393 US 503 (1969)
Supreme Court held that students who wore armbands which carried a political message had a constitutionally-protected right, under the First Amendment, to do so.

[Students do not] shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.

Web sources

5 things public schools can and can't do when it comes to dress codes, ACLU, 2017.
Provides "a few of the basics on what public schools can and can’t do when it comes to dress codes."

ACLU of Massachusetts challenges Malden charter school's discriminatory hair policy, ALCU of Massachusetts, 2017.
Provides information and links to additional sources about a challenge to a school policy prohibiting students from wearing their hair in braids with extensions.

Public school student free speech: a primer, National Constitution Center, 2018.
Discusses basic rights and the distinction between college and high school students.

Student speech, ACLU.
Includes symbolic speech, such as dress, as well as more traditional issues, like school papers and theater productions.

When school dress codes discriminate, National Education Association, 2018.
"While a dress code is supposed to make the school environment more conducive to learning, it frequently does the opposite."

Print sources

Education law, Matthew Bender, 1984-, loose-leaf. vol. 3.

The law of schools, students, and teachers in a nutshell, 6th ed., West Academic Publishing, 2018.

Municipal law and practice, (Mass Practice v.18B), Thomson/West, 2006 with supplement. Sections 22.40-22.41.

School law in Massachusetts, 3rd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf, Chapter 10. 

"Validity of regulations by public school authorities as to clothes or personal appearance of pupils," 58 ALR 5th 1.

Contact for Massachusetts law about student dress codes and freedom of expression

Last updated: September 6, 2023

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