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

U.S. Constitution, 1st Amendment Free speech, press, religion

Selected cases

Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., 594 U.S. __ (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 U.S. 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

4 things public schools can and can't do when it comes to dress codes, ACLU, 2022.
Provides "a few of the basics on what public schools can and can’t do when it comes to dress codes."

Student dress code, ACLU, 2023.
Includes new on court cases and reports.

Student rights at school: Free speech, Findlaw, 2023.
Public school students generally have the same First Amendment rights to freedom of speech as everyone else when they're at school and during school activities. But the U.S. Supreme Court has carved out some exceptions when it comes to protecting student speech because of the need to provide a safe and orderly school environment.

Student speech and privacy, 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, 7th ed., West Academic Publishing, 2022.

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

School law in Massachusetts, 4th ed., MCLE, loose-leaf. Chapter 7, section 7.4.1, Free speech rights; Chapter 11, Public schools, online speech, and electronic devices and data. 

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

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Last updated: March 14, 2024

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